Quote of the Day: “Though a man has a new birth at every new phase of his life it is inevitable, if the abandoned phase has been good, that he should mourn it as a dead friend.” — John Myers, from “The Wild Yazoo”
Tooling around on my new bike and the oppressive heat of the early Mississippi summer have combined to generate in me flashbacks to the halcyon (I admit I had to look it up to be sure) days of my late 70’s childhood. Sure, they were tough times for a lot of people. But double digit inflation, unemployment and interest rates, the grain embargo, the hostages, even disco had only the slightest presence in my consciousness.
What dominated summer, from my earliest memories was baseball. My first games were in our side yard and I was the only player on both teams. I’d wear my brother’s catching gear and loved the navy and orange shin guards, with only one knee, and the mask that was worn with a baseball cap on backwards. It had no helmet and the backwards cap was turned back around immediately upon taking a position in the field. I can still feel the slippery sweat on my lower jaw and around my lips rubbing against the black leather of the mask.
I soon progressed enough to earn a spot in the neighborhood games. Or so I thought. As the youngest by a couple of years on Woodhaven Street, I always took it as a sign of my prodigious talent that I was accepted so young. It has only been recently that my Dad revealed the real reason I could play was access to my brother’s equipment.
I have a distinct memory as a five year old of the dust cloud from a slide in to second in one of my brother’s games. And I remember his team, Big Ten Tires, and their beautiful all yellow uniforms. I vowed then and there I would play in a real league someday, and get on a team featuring those yellow trousers and stretchy leggings. So off to T-ball it was. I progressed through four years of blue shirts and white pants before finally getting the news that my ten year old Mississippi Chemical team would be green and yellow. But alas, we got white pants and only by winning our league was the disappointment of missing the colored pants assuaged. Moving up for the last time in kids’ ball, I was back in blue and white, but there was some consolation in being assigned red pants for All-Stars as a twelve year old–red pants in which we conquered the State of Mississippi. Then a colossal coaching error found us back in white pants for the Dixie Youth World Series where we could only manage one win in three tries.
But baseball then wasn’t only about the uniforms. I miss the plastic Icee cups with Johnny Bench, Carl Yaztremzki, Pete Rose, and even Jeff Burroughs and Richie Zisk. I still have the MLB mini-helmets they served slush puppies in at the ballfields. I miss the Saturday Game of the Week which always featured my Cincinnati Reds and the goofy stories of Joe Garogiola. The most exciting night of the summer was the night of the All-Star Game, always played mid-week. Mid-week baseball on TV! It was unheard of. More than anything I miss the elaborate whiffle ball games and the detailed statistics we managed to keep up with. And the days we rounded third and dove for home on the slip and slide.
There was plenty more to life back then…finding crawdads and golfballs, cutting trails, shoplifting gum from the Li’l General, but when I think back, its baseball that dominates in memory, and I miss it the way it was.