For The Love of Sports

basketballJune. Graduations. Tassels. Every year my mind goes back to my own school days and it is as though it was yesterday. I was a school girl in the Fifties. Ah, the Fifties. We were so fortunate to live in the Fifties…as long as I could play sports. I never lied and said I loved school. In my mind, studies took a back seat…way back seat..to the afternoon softball game or that evening’s basketball game.

When did I start loving baseball?  Probably when I was seven or eight years old and my brother, Rex, and I listened to the Red Sox on our old Philco radio. Curt Gowdy was the announcer and many an afternoon, we sat on our rickety front steps with the radio blaring from the kitchen corner. We made sure it was shut off well in advance of the parents coming home from work…and we saved the battery for the news that evening.

We had one bat and a glove and ball. The front yard was minuscule, but a rock here and there served as bases and we filled many days with taking turns to bat and pretending we were at Fenway. Rex was Bobby Doerr and indeed, years later, he was outstanding in the infield for our Woodstock High. I credit our front yard practices for his success later in life with the baseball team.

Years later, it came to pass that many a summer evening a few car loads of people came down from Lockes Mills and what was known as the “flat” turned into our own private ball field. I was the only girl to play and was shown no mercy. I have no idea why, after all these years, one play stands out in my mind. I was playing second base with a runner on first. The batter hit a line drive, the runner started to advance. I leaped and caught the ball and threw it to first to double up the runner. That must have been a shining moment in my life because I remember that more vividly than giving the Valedictory speech at my high school graduation!

My mother was not the happiest that her only daughter was an extension of her sons and loved the game of baseball. But wait! A few years later, she drove me on Sunday afternoons to the ball field at Lockes Mills to see the Greenwood team play. She was hooked!  She was more afraid of her windshield being broken by a foul ball, so she parked as far away as she could, which resulted in our dragging our lawn chairs quite the distance. Many an afternoon of entertainment came out of that ball field.

High school and softball became my sole comfort amongst the dull subjects handed to me. If I could play softball, I could ignore the discomfort of biology, algebra and all the other subjects which bored me to tears.

I played left field and third base…wherever I was needed most. I doubt that my brother remembers showing me a little trick I used while batting. I doubt , also, that it is anything which anyone used, but it worked for him…and for me. I got up in the batters box, looked out to see where there was an empty hole and when the pitcher delivered, shifted my feet and weight so that I could hit the ball where there was no opposition. Always thanked my brother for that tip…though it had no practical use in my future. I looked good for a little while.

During my four years of high school and playing softball, there was only one incident that scared the daylights out of everyone, including the coach. I was helping with the bases before the start of a game, was bending down, and when I straightened up, someone threw a baseball for some reason and it hit me in the temple. I saw stars, the coach came running. I remained on my feet but , yes, I actually cried and was helped to the bench. When the game began, I was up and at them again, fully recovered but with a ghastly headache. That incident has come in handy over the years because if I forget anything, I always say, “I was hit in the temple with a baseball once…” and trust me, the older I get, the more I am using it.

My three sons were all on Farm teams and then Little League and what joy to go watch them play. By this time I was writing for the newspapers and I got in touch with Johnny Pesky of the Red Sox and asked for some used baseballs for Alan’s farm team. He answered me promptly and said he had turned it over to someone whose name I can’t recall right now ( I was hit on the temple with a baseball once) and in the mail came a big carton of baseballs that the Sox had used in batting practice!

I was still listening to the Sox on the radio in my farm kitchen and eventually had a writing relationship with Ned Martin, who never forgot to send me a Christmas card until his untimely death. I also corresponded with Mel Parnell, who was a great pitcher turned broadcaster. In my box of baseball memories are a couple letters from Johnny Pesky.

And so it goes…baseball has always been a big part of my life..will always be.

Apologies to all those who really don’t care about the game.  I could start over, but the Sox are playing tonight and I don’t want to miss Chris Sale pitching.

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