Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Field of Dreams
One of the Amarillo Ticks, to be exact. That was the name of my first baseball team, the summer after I'd completed second grade, 1954. We were living in Amarillo because of the Korean War. Dad had been called back to active duty, had been scheduled to go to Korea, but then the Air Force decided to re-open its base in Amarillo, and so to the Texas Panhandle we went for a couple of years. MapQuest says it's 265.76 mi from Enid, OK, to Amarillo--4 hours, 36 minutes. Sounds about right. We drove it quite a few times, back to see our grandparents. And once--this would be unthinkable now--brother Dickie, only about 10, took the Greyhound, by himself, back and forth. I remember we had to cross the Canadian River (near Canadian, Texas) on a rickety bridge that always frightened me, though the mighty Canadian was not too mighty in those dry days.
Palo Duro Canyon.)
I also, for the first time, played on an organized baseball team. Actually, it was softball. Little kids began with softball in those days--which seems odd for a couple of reasons: (1) a softball is not soft (just ask my face); (2) little kids' hands can not grip the ball properly--it's too big. But softball it was. We had no uniforms, just T-shirts. The Ticks' shirt was bright green--grass-green--and featured a big fuzzy white tick on the front, as big as my (puny) chest. Subsequent trips through the washing machine with Tide and company soon cracked and unfuzzed the tick. By the end of the season, poor Tick looked like chunks of sea salt spread out on my (puny) chest.
I don't remember our team record. I just remember my own (more later). I played center field, a glamor position that held no glamor. Exactly one ball came to me the entire season, mostly because seven-year-olds had a hard time hitting a softball out of the infield. But one Amarillo evening, one kid got hold of one and hit a towering fly ball. I didn't have to move a step--which is a good thing. For in those dark days of youth, I had no idea how to track a fly ball. So I just stood there, my glove extended, and the ball fell right into it.
And then out.
I didn't think to cover the ball with my other hand, and my "glove" had no pocket whatsoever--I think we bought it at a local hardware store. It was flat and hard--more like a bicycle seat than a ball glove.
I looked down at the ball and started crying. Coaches were yelling things. So I picked up the ball and threw a rainbow back in the general vicinity of the infield while the kid was running around the bases with astonishing speed. By the time the ball landed somewhere around the pitcher's mound, he was streaking for home and slid in a magnificent cloud of Panhandle dust. A pointless slide. No one had thrown the ball home.
Dad got me a new glove the next day.
As for my plate appearances? I believe that coaches pitched to us--tossed underhand--but I'm not clear on that. What I am clear on is this: I did not swing at a pitch all summer. I was too afraid. I was small then (unlike my imposing, towering Self of today), so I scrunched down, laid the bat on my shoulder, and kept it there throughout the summer. I either walked or struck out, every plate appearance. So my batting average was easy to remember: .000.
Dad would always cheer from the sidelines: "Pick out a good one, Doodlebug! [We'll get into that nickname another day.] Give it a ride!"
But I never gave one a ride. I never even offered one a lift.
And, later, Dad would toss balls to me in the back yard, and I'd swing and hit them (I eventually got pretty good at it). But on that Avondale field? I waited for the walk. Cried every time I struck out. Dreamed of greater things.