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Sandlot Baseball – Baseball Spoken Here

May 17, 2010

Technically, I am not bi-lingual but I do speak baseball as a second language. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times it has helped me develop great friendships.

There are certain guys like Brad Gerver of Flagstaff, Arizona, who will tell you that he and his sandlot gang used to oil their gloves into submission until they were black. There are guys like Pat Tunney of Norman, Oklahoma, who will tell you that he could read a box score before his 7th birthday. And there are guys like Steve Grinsell of Plymouth, Massachusetts, who will tell you that he stole flour from his mom’s kitchen to line the sandlot baseball field in his backyard.

When I meet people like them, I consider myself fortunate because we share a credo, a passion. We carry that invisible sign that reads, Baseball Spoken Here.

Brad GerverBlues Man in the Hot Corner

Brad and I played in Flagstaff’s 16-Inch Slow-Pitch Softball League in the late 70s. He is the best guitar-pickin’, glove wieldin’ songster/third baseman I’ve ever known. Here are some of his sandlot baseball memories when he played in the late 50s in Van Nuys, California:

“We played in the cornfield behind our neighborhood which eventually was turned into a park. I couldn’t wait to get up early to play all morning, especially if it was gonna be a scorcher. We had way more fun playing outside of organized ball. You had to reach second base to count as a single. We even kept our batting averages. If we didn’t have enough guys, we’d close right field.”

“I had this Hillerich and Bradsby with a big fat barrel and a skinny handle. It was very heavy and made of unusually darker wood. And, I remember it was very inexpensive. I’d choke up on it and I could pound that ball a mile with it. Best bat I ever owned, EVER! Once when I shanked one, I got really p.o.’d and flung it against the backstop. It cracked. I was crushed. I could never, EVER find another one like it. I was so very bummed.”

“My two best friends from the old neighborhood and I still play catch once in a while when we’re together, which is way too seldom. Well into our 50s, now,  we’ve even trekked to the old neighborhood to play catch with my son to regain that special feeling and to pass it on down the line.”

Pat Tunney Of Bisons and Box Scores

Pat and I met as grad students in Austin at the University of Texas in the early 80s. In addition to prison stints (college internships, actually) at the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville, we played together on the School of Social Work’s co-ed softball team, Asleep at the Plate. The latter was a little more fun.

Pat, who cheated on his age to play his first year in the Armor, New York Little League during the early 60s, shared some of his memories:

“I remember going to a Buffalo Bisons AAA baseball game with the rest of the team (in uniform, of course). I may have been the only kid in town that kept a scorecard while listening to Bisons games on the radio.”

 “I always tried to find a Henry Aaron bat to hit with (no matter the size or weight). As soon as I knew how to read a box score (about 1960), I always checked on the Braves to see if he had hit another homer.”

 “I still have and use my Ted Williams fielder’s glove that I received for my 8th birthday. Each spring, I would soften it up with oil and then form the pocket by tying a baseball in the pocket for about a week.”

 “My favorite World Series memory as a kid was when Bill Mazeroski homered to beat the Yankees to win Game 7 of the 1960 Series. I got on my bike and rode through the neighborhood hollering, ‘Pirates Win, Pirates Win!’ I was 7 years old.”

 Steve GrinsellThe Natural

In the mid-80s, Steve and I were player-coaches for co-ed softball teams based on the South Shore of Boston. In the language of baseball, Steve was/is “a natural.”  He was the guy who made catching impossible line drives look easy. He was the guy who effortlessly stroked a double to win it in the bottom of the 9th.

Whenever I played in the outfield and Steve stepped up to the plate, I knew he was going to try to hit it over my head. And no matter how deeply I played him, he cranked it over my head anyway…

What follows are some of Steve’s early baseball memories from the early 60s in Danielson, Connecticut, preceded by one of his cardinal rules:

“My bat and glove were extensions of my personal space. Do not touch them without permission.”

“There was nothing like the smell of a freshly mowed baseball field. We would ‘borrow’ street signs to make our backstop. Our bases were anything from t-shirts to chunks of wood. Someone’s pair of underwear worked in a pinch! We even made a pitcher’s mound and rubber. Endless summer games from dusk until dawn were played there without adult involvement.”

“The thrill of chasing down a long fly ball and making the routine catch look heroic, and catching a pitch just right and drilling it high and far into the sky are fond memories which I still try to recapture when I go with the boys to hit at a local field. I would say a team’s camaraderie was crucial even though I did not fully understand its importance back then.”

Steve’s last comment may very well speak for all of us who played ball 50-or-so years ago.

“I do not recall any of us having rituals at the plate other than making the sign of the cross on the plate and whacking our cleats. We were not on TV trying to hold the camera on us. We just wanted to play ball, anxious to take our swings.”

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One Comment
  1. Wow, great memories. They all sound so familiar in so many ways. It’s always interesting to me how little parents were involved in these activities, and the kids were fine on their own. Thanks for sharing, Bill

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