Saturday, June 9, 2012

Taking a Little Stroll

This past Wednesday I joined 1.2 million people in watching the college softball championship game.  A three hour delay to the start of the game did not discourage me one bit.  I was in it to "finish" it!  I believe that is the best softball game I have ever witnessed.

I played softball.  Unfortunately, it was before Title 9 so our school did not have a team.  I played park ball.   I've often wondered if I would have been good enough to make a school team.  Since we can't travel back in time, I like to think that I made the team and I was a superstar!  I was a catcher for most of my years of softball (which ended when I was 22) and I have the knees to prove it!

The park was a large part of my life.  As I stroll down memory lane I can see the park of my childhood.There were only two fields - King Field, but most of us called it the big field, and Byrd Field, which was, of course, the little field - it was a simpler time.  There was also a swimming pool and a gymnasium, but they are not part of this trip to the past.

Strangely enough, the thoughts of my years at the park, begin with my grandfather, PawPaw.  He was badly disabled by a stroke years before, but he could make it to the park and set up his lawn chair under the awning of the concession stand that was directly behind home plate.  Since I was a catcher, I was very close to him.  He couldn't form many words, but I could hear him laughing, his way of communicating.  I  knew that no matter who was sitting on the bleachers, I had a fan.

I think of Mr. Byrd "passing the hat".  During the game the announcer would say it was time to pass the hat, so Mr. Byrd, who seemed to be at least 100 years old at the time, would pass a baseball cap to collect money from the spectators.  As a young child, this activity would confuse me.  In my childish mind we paid God on Sundays by passing the plate.  I couldn't figure out who we were paying with this passing of the hat.

I can almost taste the hamburgers and fries, the best I ever telling how many years they used the same grease!  The hands full of bubble gum bought for the team, someone passing you a coke through the hole in the dugout.

I had many different coaches over the years but a few made quite an impression on me.  Dot Cochran - she taught me the game of softball, her wit still amuses me today.  Charlene Treadaway - she probably worked us harder than any coach.  After you run a few laps for missing a ball, it becomes very important to catch it the next time.  Jim Gallman - he was the last of my little league coaches.  He taught me loyalty, playing through the pain and how to put the team first.

As I got older the "big field" got my attention.  That is where the "older" boys played.  The high school didn't have a baseball field, so all the high school games were played there.  We lived close enough to hear the PA system.  I headed down the hill as soon as I heard them giving the starting line ups.  You may think I'm a little off my rocker...but one of the best sounds to me is metal cleats walking on pavement.  I know it is cliche to say it is like music to my ears.  It wasn't because it meant boys were around, ok, maybe a little, but it mostly meant baseball was around!

...and the dirt...oh the dirt at the park was the best ever!  It was red dirt.  Any socks you wore to the park could never be worn anywhere else.  After a ballgame I would be covered in it. It just about took a scouring pad to clean it off your clothes and body.   I loved it! Yes, I just confessed my love for dirt.  But this wasn't just any dirt, it was park dirt.  It's the dirt that held the magic of childhood, the glory days of a beloved sport, the making of life long friends.

Scarlett O'Hara had a love for the dirt of Tara.  It was in her blood.  I think I have the same feeling for the red dirt of the park. It's a part of what makes me who I am.

Thanks for taking this trip with me to the park.


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