Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Base-A-Ball, Base-A-Ball, Base-A-Ball

Hi Bill

I have been thinking about when I played baseball with the neighborhood sluggers and then moved on to organized leagues. I know you played with us occasionally in the neighborhood.  I remember that you often practiced with me and you really helped me learn how to play the game.

Grandpap used to say “Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, that’s all you guys ever think about.” He was pretty much right about that. Our West Plank Road neighborhood boys were into sports, especially baseball. Pat and Mike H’s father created a baseball diamond in the back of their property. It was our Field of Dreams, long before that movie was in the theaters. Weather permitting, and even when the weather was not so kind, we played baseball. Shortly after we moved to that neighborhood they got us involved, because there were not enough neighborhood guys to field two teams to play each other. So we would play four against four or whatever. We eventually were able to put nine players on our team and we played other neighborhoods.

My good friend, Pat H, took me to Hollidaysburg to sign up for the peewee league or whatever they called it, I believe during our second or third spring in the neighborhood. He had played in that program the previous year and he guided me through the signup process and helped me get accepted by the other boys. I will never forget Coach Weaver, who was a teacher in the junior HS, and also lead the youth baseball league in town. Shortly after I joined that program, Pat and I ran into him at The Blue & White Snack Bar, which was also known as Curlys. He bought Root Beer Floats for both of us and sat at a table talking with us. He was a great guy, and I have fond memories of him. That program introduced me to what would become a lifelong love for baseball, although I haven’t played it for many years now.

I have a vivid memory of a time shortly after I joined that baseball program. The coaches were hitting fly balls to us little guys. They hit one sky high pop up that went over my head and I kept backing up as fast as I could thinking: “Oh no! Why did he hit it to me? Please, please, please let me catch it!” I kept backpedaling and finally held my glove up and somehow the ball just plunked right into my glove as I fell onto the grass. I did not drop it either. It was a miracle catch and everybody expressed their amazement and congratulations to me.

That miracle catch was another pivotal event that fed and sustained my love for the game. I played peewee baseball and then went on to play little league in Hollidaysburg. While playing little league, I played almost every position including outfield, third base, first base, catcher, and even pitcher.  It was a wonderful program that had a beautiful field with dugouts, concrete grandstands, an outfield wall, and a well-groomed turf.

That baseball field was near the junior HS and Pat H and I usually rode our bikes to practice and the games. It was a few miles on the berm of a very busy highway and then on the city streets. However, Pat H showed me another route that took us on a narrow path into the woods and over a ridge between our neighborhood and Hollidaysburg. That path through the woods was a much shorter and quicker route. However, it also included some steep slopes and at one location it required us to carry our bikes on a cable-fence (three steel cables, i.e., one on top, one about 2 feet below the top cable, and another 2 feet below the middle cable) that traversed a usually-wet gully. We could either carry our bikes across the cable-bridge or take a longer detour through the woods. We usually chose the cables. It was all part of the magical environment we lived in. Anyway, that path emerged from the woods right behind the baseball field. I used that route very often, but not when it was raining or when it had just rained. Playing in that baseball program was an exciting time for me and it was especially great when our parents, Grandpap and you came to watch me play.

Unfortunately, not all of my baseball experiences were encouraging. I played JV baseball during my junior year in HS, with beloved Coach Weaver. Then I joined the varsity team during my senior year and I was enjoying being on that team. However, varsity Coach C found out that I, and a few other players, had signed up for the class play and had begun rehearsing for it. He got us together and told us that we were no longer on the baseball team because we had joined the play cast. Although we all agreed that we would quit the play, he did not want to hear it. He pointed out that if we left the play the director would need to find other actors to take our parts. Even though it was early in the play rehearsal phase, he would not allow us to quit the play and remain on the baseball team. That ended my HS baseball career. I like to think that would not happen today, when participation in a variety of school activities is encouraged – isn’t it?

You may remember that I also played VFW baseball for a few summers and that was a great program. Our coach, Purse, was a wonderful guy and my teammates were good friends. We did very well in that league and it was a terrific experience for me. I discovered that I was very comfortable and competent at playing first base in that league. I got to play in the All Star games a few times. That was a fun time for me. I often wonder what happened to Purse. I hope he had a wonderful life.

After my senior year in HS I didn’t play anymore organized baseball, although I did play softball for our Department of Public Assistance team when I was working in Philadelphia for a while after college.

I still love baseball, but as a spectator, not a player. I attended Phillies games when my wife Pat and I lived in Philadelphia and Reds games when we lived in Cincinnati. Of course I attended several Pirates games in Forbes Field and then in Three Rivers Stadium. Unfortunately I have never attended a game at PNC Park. However, I have remained a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan and Pat and I have watched almost every Pirates game during the last few years on the MLB Extra Innings package on Direct TV. She and I are addicted to those games and they sometimes create difficult scheduling problems for other activities. I used to think she would get tired of fanatically watching Pirates baseball, but she seems to have contracted the Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball, Base-a-ball fever that I contracted back in our old West Plank Road neighborhood.

Please give my best regards to your family and take care.

Sincerely Clark

Our Old Field of Dreams

Clark (7th grade)

Grandpap and Clark

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