Saturday, September 13, 2008

I’ve Never Been to Williamsport

Every August the sound of aluminum bats clanging as they hit baseballs makes its appearance in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Little leaguers from around the world gather to play in the annual event known as the Little League World Series. Back in 1961, we still used wooden bats, so the clanging was more like loud cracks when the bat struck the ball. As a 12-year-old boy in Zweibrucken, Germany, like 12-year-olds everywhere else, I grabbed my glove and headed over to the baseball diamond which was situated down the hill behind the Officer’s club. Our team was called the Orioles and was made up of kids whose fathers were in the military stationed in Zweibrucken - which means two bridges. My teammates included Frank Mills who played first base, Hector Conde at second, Tommy Doyle at third base, Joe Harmon on the mound, Robert Ames catching, Joe Hauser at shortstop, Ricky Westerman in Left, Richard Johnson in center and I was in right field. We practiced every chance we got and we were pretty good.

Our coach was a baseball fanatic who taught us how to win as a team, and we did. Anytime our pitcher who might have been Joe Harmon, Joe Hauser or Tommy Doyle, walked a batter, our catcher Robert would throw the ball to Frank at first. If the walked player was a hot dog and took an early lead, Frank who had the ball would just reach over and tag him out. (This is known as the hidden ball trick.) That season we only got one player out with it but the anticipation was always fun and made us concentrate on the game.

Coming of Age in Zweibrucken is a book now available from Amazon and describes my experiences living in Europe during the Cold War.

We didn’t win every game that year, but we won enough to qualify for the playoffs to see who would represent our area in Germany at the little league world series. It all came down to a final game in Pirmasens against our cross-town rivals. Tom Doyle was hit in the face by a curveball in that game but since our team was short players, had to play through the pain with a swollen face. Some of us missed the game because we were at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Giessen leaving our teammates to survive without us. Much to our chagrin, we lost and Pirmasens went back to Pennsylvania and lost three games to the team from Taiwan. I earned a few merit badges that summer including knot tying and my swimming merit badge. We had to dive down to the bottom of the deep end of the pool on a chilly morning in Germany and retrieve a rubber weight. By the time we got back from the Jamboree, I had toothpaste all over everything and a terrible ear infection which required a waxy shot of penicillin in the buttocks and a week’s stay in bed trying to recover.

Some of my fondest memories are of organized athletic activity. The first one I remember, I was 8 years old and signed up at the YMCA in Berkeley, California for swimming lessons. After our first or second lesson was over, on the way to the dressing room I decided to try jumping off the diving board. Why I don’t know. I survived; dog paddled over to the side, got out and proceeded to the dressing room. Life has been like that. Trying things most people don’t -- because they know better. I played organized basketball at Meadow Homes Elementary school. On one Saturday morning, I recall the coach who was refereeing the game asked for the ball when I threw it to him, it hit him in the face. Boy was I embarrassed.

The summer between the 5th and 6th grades, I got my first taste of organized baseball. I remember playing catcher and the father of my best friend, Steve Marcoux, was umpiring. Unprotected, without a face mask or chest protector, he wasn’t happy with my catching skills, or lack thereof. He used pebbles to keep track of balls and strikes and made comments under his breath when I missed the ball. He was in the Navy while my dad was in the Army so Steve would get the best presents when his dad came home from sea duty. Of all my teammates, Steve had the best glove. His dad picked it up on a voyage to Japan. Sometimes those memories come flooding back and make me smile. Funny, isn’t it, how the small things make such a difference in our lives.

Coming of Age in Zweibrucken is a book now available from Amazon and describes my experiences living in Europe during the CVold War.

1 comment:

Don Filer said...

I still like this episode. My original recollection was that the team went to Williamsport - without me but Tommy Doyle set me straight on what really happened. Funny how our memories sometimes plays tricks on us.