Tag Archives: baseball memories

A Beautiful Day of Baseball

May 15, 2018.

Clay Center Community High School hosted a 4A baseball regional in Clay Center for the first time since 2002. That was a long time to wait.

But when I was sitting out there watching the four teams, it was like a slice of baseball heaven.  The crowds were great and supportive. The teams played their hearts out. Watching the three games on the renovated Campbell Field put a smile on this old coach’s face.

Thank you, Clay County for the donations of time, skill, funds, materials, prayers, and the new scoreboard to help make this renovation project possible. It truly is a field of dreams to us old baseball people and something we hope the young baseball people will be able to enjoy for years.

The power of a “for the community by the community” project.

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Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce

There I sat.

In Texas Tom’s.

Late at night, almost midnight.

After one of the first Legion Post 199 doubleheaders of the summer.

Sitting there staring at the red tray holding two Buckaroo Basket orders on the white, shiny table in front of me.

Contemplating. Contemplating not only how hungry I was after a night of baseball, but contemplating the very future of this collection of baseball talent Dennis “Harpo” Hurla had put together for the summer’s Fegan’s Cafe team.

If there was ever a time I needed a clutch hit, this was it.

It was my second season playing for Harpo. I was one of only a handful returners, and, once again, the only player on this talent-laden team from Washington High School. The previous year was a conglomeration of talent from a wide variety of area high schools. This year, though, almost all the players were from Bishop Ward, all from one very successful high school programs that spring season and my school’s most hated rival, no less.

I knew many of these kids and played baseball with many of them coming up through Christ the King Catholic School. Still, I wondered how and where I would fit within the hierarchy of this baseball team. I didn’t wanted to be pushed out to the fringes of the team–I wanted to the hub this team turned around.

This may sound arrogant to you, but it’s part of being a confident athlete. My arrogance and ego as an athlete probably failed me in life 99% of the time, but on the sports field, that other 1% was MINE. That 1% was pure magic. I wanted to be dependable to my new teammates in any situation. I wanted them to rely on me.

There I sat in Texas Tom’s—a greasy, local fast food joint in the heart of Bishop Ward territory—ready to mark my place with my new teammates. I remember as a kid, driving by Texas Tom’s, with the cartoon cowboy painted on its sign, on the way to my grandparents house. We’d never stop there to eat. Never. The Ward guys talked about TT’s all the time. They even told the legend of how several big time Cyclone athletes had achieved rare air through their one-sitting consumption of a two Buckaroo Baskets.

In case you never had the pure, artery hardening experience of the Buckaroo Basket at Texas Tom’s, here’s what you got in your half-a-football sized red plastic basket lined with TT’s paper. One cheeseburger dripping in greasy goodness, one fried burrito made with the finest of synthetic protein sources, copious amounts of steaming french fries, a taco, and to top thing off properly, a handful of crisp deep fried onion rings dropped over the top. Oh, let’s not forget the spicy, red taco sauce served on the side packed in sealable white styrofoam cups due to potential negative environmental impact and ability to eat its way out of a normal paper serving cup.

Double Buckaroo Basket was twice of all the above.

So with a half-dozen set of eyes upon me, the outsider, and the clock close to striking midnight, I snarfed down one Buckaroo Basket and then proceeded calmly to the second. The second Buckaroo Basket proved little challenge as it went down with the expert fashion as only a 17-year-old highly active, Bubba athlete can do.

I finished to smiles, congratulations and many pats on the back. I was cool in their eyes. But, to me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the workhorse of this team. I wanted to be the guy they looked to get the big hit, make the big play, and be the rock the team could be built on. I wanted my new teammates to not only let an outsider into their circle, I wanted them to hook their wagons to me. And I wanted to do justice to Dennis Hurla. Harpo gave me, an unknown from Washington High School, the opportunity to play for Fegan’s Cafe and I didn’t want to let him down.

I told the guys to sit back down in their seats. They did. I reached through the trash on the tray in front of me and fished out the two sealed containers of the taco sauce. The taco sauce the Ward guys said nobody EVER eats. I popped the lids off carefully and every chair in the vicinity slid away from me a few yards. Looking into the eyes fixed upon me and the cup of red goo in my hands, I threw back one after the other and shot down the sauce.

Eyes bulged around our little group and their stomachs turned over. But, I held strong. I stood, picked up my tray and deposited the trash into the can. I turned to my paralyzed, gawking teammates.

“Boys, let’s get the hell out of here. We have another game tomorrow night.”

I had forgotten all about that night 33 years ago. For some reason, the memory popped out of my neural network the other day.

Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce.

It quickly became a team battle cry.

How can one forget something like that?

Probably brain damage from too many containers of Texas Tom’s Taco Sauce.

Buckaroo Basket

(Note: We made to the Kansas American Legion state tournament that year for the first time in many years. Once Harpo survived coaching us crazy SOB’s, he went to several regional and national Legion events before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Ward where he has won more Kansas 4A State Baseball Championships than he has fingers. I am forever grateful of the time spent playing for Dennis. I know we, the first couple groups of kids he ever coached, are better human adults because of the experience.)

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Broken Bats

There was a time in my life where the world revolved around broken bats.

Baseball ruled my youth. From the time the snow melted, until the leaves turned, it was all about baseball. In our neighborhood, we weren’t the richest kids. We were from working class families in the 1970’s all trying to squeeze out the good life with lots of kids and minimal resources.

I spent a lot of time at our local baseball park. By local, I mean within bike riding distance because that was the only way to get around town for us kids. With both older brothers and younger brothers, there was almost always one member of the family playing a game on either the little field or the big field, so I was there about every night even if my team had the night off.

As a spectator, with “spectator” meaning chasing foul balls for a piece of gum and playing cup ball in the open dirt space between the fields, an eye and/or ear was always kept open for the hottest commodity around, a broken wooden bat. Yes, boys and girls, all bats used to be made of wood. Aluminum bats were around, but to hit a ball to the sound of a “tink” was not the most desirable way one wished to spend their summer. Back in the day, one might as well spend the whole of summer in the reference section of the library rather than swing metal instead of natural wood.

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Bats were expensive, even back then. It was a rare thing to have your own bat. I had a Carl Yastrzemski model 28-inch Louisville Slugger I got for my 5th birthday. The Yaz wasn’t for the backyard or the playground; it was a bat you held in your hands, took practice swings with and dreamt of championship winning balls flying over the Green Monster or the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium.

So, as I was saying, personal ownership of a high quality, store-bought bat was rare, which made the acquisition of batting practice, pick-up game, home run king, Indian ball bats of the highest importance. Hence, the broken bats market was vital to the game outside the game of summer baseball.

A typical summer day would start with a fine breakfast and then dress in my finest set of summer play clothes, grab the glove, the water-logged baseball an irresponsible five-year-old brother left outside in the last rainstorm and hit the road on the bike. Along the ride to the ballpark, neighbor kids would ride out of their respective driveways and fall into the line of bikers.  We’d arrive at the little league field and before we’d split off into teams for the game of the day, we’d split off into search parties.

We’d first hit the woods in the ravine behind the big kid field and search for lost foul balls. On a game night at the park, found foul balls meant bubble gum, but in the daylight, found foul balls meant we actually had a decent, real baseball to play with. Once the woods were properly scoured, it was time to fan out and check the trash cans for broken bats.

Coaches rarely threw a broken bat into the trash during a game. The busted bat was usually disposed of properly long after fans, players and parents left as the coach was packing the gear to leave. He would come across said cracked bat handle and drop it into the rusted trash cans dispersed around the stands. With any luck, I’d find a true pot of gold—a treasure. A bat with only a slight crack in the handle. Whatever the haul, though, one of us would take the bat home for repair.

Dad had taught us the fine art of bat handle repair well at the Hays house. We had an entire metal container of tiny, thin finish nails just for this purpose. We would put the broken section of the bat handle in the vise and carefully tap nails across the cracked section. Every couple of nails, we’d remove the bat from the vice and tap the knob on the floor of the workroom. If the sound was solid, it was ready. If the sound was hollow or vibrated. it needed more nails. Once nailing was complete, Dad’s handy roll of electrical tape wrapped tightly around the handle finished the reclamation and the bat was, in true Frankenstein fashion, ALIVE.

These broken bats were the heart and soul of our baseball life. Without them, who knows what we’d turned into. Gangs of street thugs? Petty criminals? Math wizards? Basketball players? I shiver to think of my life without baseball. The joy of hitting a baseball would never have been the same. The crack of the bat, even if the crack has a slightly finish nail/electrical tape ring to it, would hold no magic to my young-at-heart 50- year-old heart.

Life’s simple pleasures.

Broken bats.

The simple joy of a game.

A poor boy’s dream.

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