I played second base for the Gardenville Lions Little League baseball team. Since the Lions played in “Pony League” all the players had to be between 12-14 years of age. Our star pitcher was a guy named Frank Hamburger (one of the great names of my youth, the other being Vernon Peppersack, a guy in my Boy Scout troop). Frank Hamburger was clearly older than the rest of us. Rumor had it he was sixteen, an egregious violation of league rules, but nobody said anything about it. He also hit cleanup and was the best athlete on the field. If you looked real close you could see he was cultivating the first shavings of a moustache. Sometimes I’d catch him sneaking a cigarette behind the backstop. There was a rumor he could already drive and had a hot girlfriend. Frank Hamburger was literally a man playing among children. We won the championship that year, behind the pitching and power hitting of Frank Hamburger.
Our coach was a gnarly old coot with a crew cut and squinty eyes named Mr. Bob. I think he worked with my father in the Housing Department for the City of
I wasn’t the worst player on the team. I was the third worst. Mitchell Chambliss was the worst. He always carried a big ring of keys in his pocket that jingled loudly when he ran. Mr. Bob would yell at him, “Damn it, Chambliss! Your problem is you got too many keys! They’re weighin’ you down!”
Chris Stern, who lived across the alley from us, was second worst because he was too afraid of the ball to try and actually catch it. When the ball was hit he covered up and got the hell out of the way. In his case, that was probably a smart thing to do. Then came me.
The way it goes in Little League is like this; you’re lousy the first year, decent the second year, and almost reasonably good the third year. By the third year I had gotten pretty good at fielding grounders, and I could make some great diving stops like my hero Brooks Robinson, I just couldn’t throw very well. I had an arm like a rubber band. That’s why second base suited me; it was a short throw to first from there.
I never hit a home run or a triple. The best I could muster was a “seeing eye” double through the hole. My usual strategy was to just hit it on the ground and let the other team flub it. That worked most of the time. I dinked a lot of singles around the infield. I never got beyond second base unless Frank Hamburger was coming up. Then, I got to romp around the base paths after he launched one into the stratosphere. We looked so good coming in to score in our white uniforms with blue trim. I lost that precious team photo years ago, but I remember how great it felt. I had just turned thirteen. That was a wonderful time.
The field we played on was rutted and pock marked, and bad hops were part of the game. It made me a better fielder for life. Years later, at celebrity softball games, I occasionally flash a little glove just to show I still got it; can’t run, can’t throw, but I still got some leather left.
I still have the cheap trophy we got at the championship ceremony. I’ve kept it all these years. I was so proud to win it. Somewhere along the line, the bat snapped off the little plastic guy on the trophy, so now he just swings a stump, but it doesn’t matter. That trophy will always rank up there among the best awards I ever got or ever will get. It sits on my desk. I like to read the inscription from time to time. “GARDENVILLE REC. CHAMPIONS 1962”
So, put a little spizzerinctum on the ball!