In the Summer of 1953, in a vacant field next to my grandma’s house, a bunch of us kids, some kin & some not, busied ourselves playing a game of bat & ball called five-dollars–a game whereby a batter throws up the ball his self and hits it with a bat toward the rest of the players all bunched up some distance away. The batter did his best to hit the ball over the heads of all the outfielders if possible, but they placed themselves at a distance where it took a good poke to do so. we knew every batter well, and we adjusted our distance according to his/her ability as a batter. A roller counted a quarter; catching the ball on one bounce counted 50 cents; and a fly-ball counted $1.00. When one of the outfielders accumulated a total of $5.00, the fielder replaced the batter, the most prized position on the field. The old batter went back to the outfield determined to return as soon as possible. The game ended when enough players became tired or disinterested and went home, ending the game.
The grouped acted as the umpire in determining if the player caught the ball on one hop, if the player cleanly fielded the ground ball, or if the player caught the ball on the fly. When arguments occurred, the group almost always won the argument except in cases when someone was determined not to give in; then someone in the group would say, “Let the crybaby have his way so we can get on with the game.” After a few more gripes the game continued.
After the game ended one day in the Summer of 1953 my friends and I got together to decide what to do next, if anything. During our huddle my best friend, Ronnie, surprised us with the news that Little League was coming to our town next year. He explained excitedly that we would have a team with uniforms, a field with bases, and play teams from other small towns in our area—a real league of our own just like the Big Leagues. I became very excited inside and quickly imagined how it would be to play in a real game with umpires and all the rest. A dream come true if I could somehow make the team. I would be 10 years old next year and old enough to go out for the team. I asked my parents about it when I got home and they confirmed it and said an organizational meeting would be held later to arrange the schedules, buy the uniforms, bats, and balls. They would have tryouts next year for the team. There would be only one team from our small town, so if you didn’t make the squad, you’d become a spectator.
To a kid like me each school day seemed like a year; the whole year of school seemed like an eternity. My favorite classes were gym and recess. I couldn’t wait for the school day to end so I could go home and shoot baskets or play on the abandoned railroad spur close to our house, overgrown on both sides with brush and several large trees, a perfect place to hide in and pretend to be on a dangerous scouting mission or hunting expedition. To increase the realism of our play we constructed bows out of appropriate size saplings and arrows out of dried horse weeds, or from strait, smaller saplings. A finishing nail was added to the arrow through a slit in one end and secured by coiling strong twine around the split end. With our bows and a couple of arrows we stalked the numerous bird population in our wild world as if our lives depended on it. I never injured one bird, but it was fun and exciting to pretend being grownup warriors hunting for our food with real weapons made by our own hands. We spent a lot of time and had a lot of fun making our crude bows and arrows. Our arrows were strong enough to stick into trees, but accuracy suffered from a lack of stabilizing feathers.
On Saturdays I’d go to the basketball court at the grade school and attempt to join the older boys in a game of basketball. I’d shoot baskets with them while they warmed-up and tried to impress them with my shooting and dribbling skills. After the game started I stood around for a while and watched. Finally, after a game or two, one of the older boys reluctantly chose me as the last member of his team, making a few cutting remarks in his apology to his teammates for selecting me. My teammates didn’t pass me the ball often; but when they did, I felt really special. To make myself a useful member of the team I hustled after rebounds and loose balls. I couldn’t wait to grow up and attend high school like my teammates, whom I literally looked up to.
Eventually, the long school year ended and the awaited summer vacation of 1954 arrived. Soon afterwards, the tryouts for the little league team commenced. Being one of the younger players trying out, my chances for making the team wasn’t good. My only hope would be at catcher. Since this was the first year of organized baseball, none of the young players trying out ever had the opportunity to put on catcher’s gear and set behind the plate. None of the players trying out ever crouched down close behind the batter and prepared to catch a hardball coming at them with all the might a young fellow could muster. Neither had I, but that was the only position available for me to make the team.
Myself and two other brave boys tried out for the catcher position on our team. To my surprise, I had no trouble or fear in getting behind the plate and catching the ball. To me it felt just like playing catch with the pitcher. I guess you could say I was born to be a catcher. The other two boys, for whatever reason, flinched in anticipation after every missed swing of the batter’s bat. The catcher mitt at that time had a small pocket not much bigger than the baseball, which made it much more difficult to catch than today’s catcher’s mitt. All the gloves were smaller during that era. I noticed that day the other boys missed catching the ball even when they got their glove on it. I observed the baseball hitting the side of their mitt often and glancing off to one side or the other, sometimes all the way to the backstop. After the tryout I knew I was the best catcher there that day. I easily won the spot and made the team as the youngest player. We had a good team that year and won our league championship with a record of 12—3. It was a great year and the beginning of my amateur baseball career. Thank you Little League for coming to our town, and I thank all the coaches and parents who supported us. garland dale