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Sandlot Baseball – One of the “Big Kids” Remembers

May 12, 2010

We used to look up to the kids who were one or two grades ahead of us in elementary school. Although they were only a year or two older than we were, it seemed like a huge gap back then. We often referred to them as the “big kids.” Some of the Abraham Lincoln School “big-kid” notables were Heikki C, Tom “Kuzzy” K, Kevin C, and Dan Shea. These guys could really play ball; all of them could hit the ball a country mile. All were magicians with their gloves. Whenever they asked you to join them in a game, it was a big deal.

Not long ago, I received a note from Dan Shea, who, somehow, discovered this baseball blog via the Internet (truly, technology’s clean-up hitter). I haven’t communicated with Dan since the sandlot days in the early 60s. He responded to the baseball memory questionnaire I sent out a few weeks ago. And I’m glad he did…

Now a resident of Amherst, NH, Dan played sandlot ball in Braintree, MA in the late 50s and early 60s.

Here are some of Dan’s memories:

“Most of my ball playing took place on the moon-like surface of Abraham Lincoln School field. I remember using bases made of pieces of cardboard, rocks, Popsicle wrappers, and pieces of wood – whatever scraps of tossed litter were available. Due to the rocked strewn/ broken glass infield, only the toughest or craziest kid would slide into a base – either way, you didn’t laugh at him….”

“I look back now to playing at Lincoln School field and remember how special it was when you first played with your new glove, new bat or new ball. Because you were using it the first time, you would be ‘christening’ your new piece of equipment. We probably used the term ‘christen’ because so many of the kids’ fathers worked at the Fore River Shipyard, where they ‘christened’ so many new ships for their maiden voyages.”

“One other habit that many of the kids displayed was to ‘bless themselves’ with the sign of the cross as some of the early Latino Major Leaguers did on television. Of course, the wild way in which some of our pitchers threw, blessing yourself with the sign of the cross was probably a wise thing to do!” 

“To play with a new ball was a treat. I remember using black friction or shiny electrician’s tape to salvage a baseball that was in jeopardy of losing its cover. When a wood bat developed a crack, the tape would come out and in less than 60 seconds the bat was back in use. If it was a severe crack, one of our fathers would use a few wood screws to hold it together, and then use the tape.”

“I laugh when I go into one of the big-box sporting goods stores today and see aluminum and composite bats that retail for hundreds of dollars. Though I must admit, I still love to check out the new baseball gloves. I often slip my hand into one of those $200 Rawlings, pound the palm a few times, and think back to those carefree summer days – back when you’d get up on a summer morning, have breakfast, do your chores and then hit the ball field.”

“For me, the baseball season was broken into three segments identified by three very distinct aromas. It began anew with the smell of freshly mowed grass in the springtime. The season continued throughout the summer with the odor of Rawlings Glovolium Oil being spread religiously on my baseball glove. And sadly, the season ended in October with the acrid scent of fallen oak leaves being burned at the curbside.”

Dan Shea was one of the “big kids” I’ll always remember from the sandlot baseball days. And I can’t agree with him more when he says, “They were great times. I wouldn’t trade them for the world!”

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  1. Hi Rich, It’s just amazing and awesome that your friend Dan S. (I, too, have a friend named Dan S.), found you via your baseball blog! I guess your blog was meant to be 🙂 His memories are so vivid, and so familiar. The only thing he mentions that the kids in my neighborhood didn’t do was bless ourselves before hitting. I guess Bridgeport, Ct was more secular. Thanks for sharing, Bill

    • Bill – For some reason, we all blessed ourselves at the plate. In fact, I wanted to become a priest when I grew up if I didn’t make the Big Leagues…
      Thanks for your response. – Rich

  2. big o permalink

    Larry Nay was the big kid on our little league team .
    He was 13 .
    A big left-handed hitting 1st baseman … could have been Rusty Staub’s older brother .

    In a town of 1200 , someone donated new uniforms .
    Twelve of them , light gray with deep maroon letters (and stirrup socks !!)
    Everybody got new caps , even the three kids that got stuck with the old uniforms .
    If you got one of those new uniforms , it meant you were definitely going to the “away” games , and had a good chance of being one of the starting nine .

    Well , Larry’s parents went out and bought him one of those shiny satin baseball jackets .
    It may have been the first one that I had ever seen .

    It was certainly the first dark rose-colored satin jacket that we had ever seen , but it seemed to match his complexion , and our new uniforms .
    Sort of .

    In white letters , across the back , Larry’s older sister had stitched in the name NAY-KID .

    We , ALL , thought that was big fun .

  3. Big O – I remember those shiny jackets, though I never had one. I also remember the thrill of putting on my Little League uniform for the first time (with the stirrups that never felt quite right).Thanks for sharing this great story. – Rich

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