Years ago, I penned a piece for the baseball ad book. The ad book was an integral part of fundraising to support the baseball program. The 1990 ad book contained pictures of teams (eight major league, 12 minor league, 12 farm and 14 T-Ball teams, and listed the 74 players in the Babe Ruth program), advertisements for local businesses, recognition of patrons, sponsors and team sponsors, and other articles of baseball interest. Players were obligated to sell chocolate (to their parents and grandparents?).
In those days, Opening Day was held at Emerson Playground. There were clinics led by high school baseball and softball players, a police radar gun to measure pitching speed and photographers to take pictures of teams and each player so that they could get their own baseball cards. And, we had separate clinics to help fledgling coaches teach the basics of the game.
I started my piece with the following words: “Baseball. Someone once said that to understand America, you must first understand baseball. Baseball. The National Pastime. Baseball. The elegance, beauty and joy of the game come to mind as I reminisce about baseball growing up in Concord. Things like…”
Going to Alcott School early and staying after school to play pickup games. We began to play such games in either the first or second grade and did so for several school years, certainly into the fourth grade as we were aware that a cohort of players from the prior year were not in school anymore, later learning that they had enrolled at Fenn School.
Chick Nickerson riding down Hubbard Street on his bicycle, leaning over his handlebars, with his baseball glove hanging from them. Hubbard Street was the route to Emerson Playground for kids from the directions of Bedford Street, Lowell Road, and Monument Street.
Friends calling, and calling up friends, to get up a game of baseball. The games we played were based on the number of players at the field. Captains were selected and they tossed the bat to determine who had first pick. If there weren’t enough players, balls hit to the opposite field were foul balls. A run might be scored by getting to first base and home before being tagged. Other rules were developed as necessary.
Watching the older guys play court against the backstop of the high school field. Usually, two against two with the batting team hitting into the screen. Cleanly fielded balls were outs, the flaps of the screen were foul balls and each tier of the screen was a certain type of hit, singles, doubles, etc. A ball hitting the top pipe was a grand slam.
Laying out a diamond in the corner of Emerson Playground so we could hit home runs over fences.
Duncan Leith, of all people, being home run champ.
Jimmy Piersall signing autographs in front of Anderson’s Market.
A friend hiding under the bench so the coach couldn’t see him and cut him from the junior high school team.
Giving Seth Aronie a baseball glove for his Bar Mitzvah.
Coach O’Connell and summer playground baseball (who that was there doesn’t still have a place in his heart for Coach O’Connell and those games of baseball).
Hoyt and Terry Taylor riding their bicycles down from Conantum twice a day, the Goransons, Billy Anderson, the Donovans, Van Doty (before he went to the Cape), the Bakers, Jimmy Diskin, John Boynton, Steve Kakas, Earl England, Bernie Kelly, Pete Mancuso, Chip Elfner and Charlie Blair.
Mr. Murphy pitching for all the kids in his morning games of baseball.
Having my mother arrive on her bicycle in the middle of a home run hitting contest, take the bat from my hand, call for a pitch and hit a home run.
For the hours and days that we spent on Emerson Playground playing baseball…
I finished my piece with the following words: “Baseball. Someone once said that to understand America, you must first understand baseball. Baseball. May that ever be true. Baseball.”
Which brings me back to the present time. Last Sunday my wife Lynda and I watched four baseball games. A glorious way to spend a Sunday. In our 14-year-old grandson’s (Fox) second game, he came in to pitch with the bases loaded and one out. He walked the first batter leaving the bases still loaded. The next batter hit the ball into right field for a single. The runner on second tried to score. The right fielder came up with the ball and threw a strike to the catcher, forcing the runner to retreat back to third where he was tagged out by the third baseman who had caught the throw from the catcher. A truly beautiful play. For those of you scoring at home, 9-2-5. Fox struck out the next batter to end the inning.
As I lay in bed thinking about how to end this column, I remembered that our youngest child’s (Ashley) family is living with us. I encourage you to do what I plan to do: get out my old baseball glove, loosen it up with neatsfoot oil, and play catch with her.