Human Interest


Growing up, baseball was not my game. I played baseball every summer, as most boys did back then, but I wasn’t very good at it. I found it boring and requiring athletic ability I did not possess. I couldn’t judge fly balls let alone catch them. I couldn’t “field” ground balls, and I couldn’t hit a curve ball. But I sure tried hard. 

A baseball is a small, very hard orb that when hit or thrown moves very fast. It can be difficult to see, especially against a bright blue sky; it just blends in with its background, and if your depth perception is not quite what it should be, you can easily lose track of a high, pop fly. That happened to me a lot so I hated to play outfield. You stood around for a long time waiting for the batter to hit the ball your way, and you had only a split second to figure out where the ball was and if you needed to go get it. Invariably, because I lacked the ability to judge it, a high fly would drop out of the sky a few feet in front of me, or worse, behind me—anywhere except in my mitt. 

Then there were balls hit on the ground. They took strange, unexpected bounces that made them very hard to catch. These “grounders,” as they were called, were the nemesis of the infielders. Batters weren’t that far away from the first, second, and third basemen and the shortstop, so when they hit a grounder, the ball was almost immediately sizzling it’s way in the direction of an infielder. He had a split second to react and hope the ball didn’t roll between his legs into the outfield, or hit a tuft of grass and bounce up and hit him in the face. When that happened, it got your attention, immediately, and you were never again as eager to go after a grounder. It was embarrassing and it hurt like crazy!

Batting was another challenge of playing baseball. As I said, a baseball is small and hard. Pitchers were trying their best to put the ball over the plate, but they were young kids who didn’t have the throwing control of their older brothers. Sometimes the ball came directly toward your head! Or your body! The older guys, who were better pitchers, could throw a curve ball. That was a huge problem for me. Standing in the batter’s box, the ball looked like it was coming right at me. I bailed out to keep from getting hit about the same time the ball curved right over home plate. STRIKE ONE! The next pitch looked like it was right over the plate—a juicy ball just waiting to be hit. I took a swing at it about the same time it curved away from my bat. STRIKE TWO! Oh, brother. I’m in trouble. So I got ready for the next pitch. But this one was a fast ball right over the plate. I stood there frozen and watched it whiz by. STRIKE THREE! Three scary, “I’m-gonna-get-hit-by-the-ball” pitches, and I’m headed back to the bench.

The first “organized” baseball I played was at Brookside Park, a city park on the east side of Indianapolis. The PAL Club had a youth baseball program for boys 8-16 years old. PAL stood for Police Athletic League. The program was run by the Indianapolis Police Department and all coaches and officials were police officers. We had tryouts, practices, and games, but on frequent occasions, the coach might not actually be there—for practice and games. In fact, as I recall we had very few games. Larry Leonard, the 17 year old brother of Gerry Leonard, one of my friends and a teammate, would often stand in for the regular coach, who didn’t show up. Larry was a nice guy who meant well, but his sense of responsibility forced into a difficult situation. 

PAL Club baseball didn’t last long for me. It was only a few weeks. When several men on the east side started Community Little League, an officially sanctioned, authentic league, and built two ball diamonds at 9th St. and Linwood, I was in! The Little League was for boys 8-10, but I was 12 so I played ball in a different league. Community Little League built more diamonds and started a “Babe Ruth League” for boys 12-14. I played Babe Ruth League baseball for two summers. As I said, I wasn’t very good so I sat on the bench most of the time. When I did play, it was disastrous. I thought second base was a good position to try. The only problem was I had no idea how to cover second on a stolen base or turn a double play. You had to catch the ball before you could do any of those things, and I routinely let grounders get by me, either to one side or the other, or between my legs. One time I covered second on a stolen base attempt when the runner slid into second with his spikes high and hit my ankle straight on. I was blocking the base so he came at me at full speed with harmful intent. He succeeded, and I fell to the ground clutching my ankle, and was out the rest of the game.  

I played Babe Ruth League for two summers, but it became painfully obvious I didn’t have a future in baseball. I lacked the necessary eye-hand coordination so I changed my focus to basketball. Community Little League continued to exist for several more decades, even though some well-meaning parents started a rival league on new diamonds built right next to the Community fields. The new group was called The Pony League, and it was meant for boys 12-14, the same as Babe Ruth League. I recall the severe animosity expressed toward the men who started the Pony League. For some reason Babe Ruth officials felt threatened by the new league because it was meant for boys who were the same age. There were a lot of friendships that ended over this development. In the end, both leagues were a success, and there were enough boys to fill teams and play games. 

My last foray into baseball was as a freshman in high school. I went out for the freshman baseball team, and, like everyone else who tried out, I made the team. My short career was highlighted by the clear single I hit to right field. But because I loafed running to first base, the right fielder threw me out! How embarrassing. After freshman baseball, I never played on a baseball team again. I tried softball many times at picnics or a church event, but I never played in a league. Playing baseball was not for me.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, I was a big Cincinnati Reds fan. Riverfront Stadium, the Reds home field, was only 105 miles from Greenwood so we could get there in under two hours. That was the Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey, George Foster, and Davey Concepcion era. I absolutely loved Pete Rose! Any chance to see him play was an opportunity to be taken. But like everything, the Big Red Machine got old, retired, and my interest in baseball waned. I hadn‘t watched the World Series the past three years because I didn’t know any of the players. I watched it this year only because the Arizona Diamondbacks were in it, and my interest was reborn when they beat the Dodgers in the final playoff game. 

The changes in the rules putting pitchers on the clock between pitches has stopped the constant fiddling players do between pitches. The speed of play and length of games have improved a lot as result—games are as much as 24 minutes shorter. But even though managers’ trips to the mound have been reduced from 5 to 4, the length of these visits is not limited. They can stay as long as they want. It’s like those interminable video reviews during football games. At least baseball realizes they have a problem with fan boredom and is trying to find a solution. 

Baseball, like Scouting, used to be a part of most boy’s growing up years. That has all changed  with the surge of interest in soccer, computer games, and other sports causing enthusiasm for baseball to decline. The interests of today’s youth bear little resemblance to those of my generation. I think it’s just the natural evolution of things. For me, baseball did little to give me self-confidence or self-esteem—unless one gains that by striking out, making fielding errors, and sitting on the bench most games. Baseball was not my finest hour. But thankfully, basketball and academics replaced baseball for me; especially academics. Academics allowed me to pursue a very satisfying and rewarding professional career. Baseball was a phase, a rite of passage, that showed me I needed a different, and better, direction for my life. I struggled with, and ultimately failed, the baseball phase of life, but passed the academic phase with little resistance. I’m happy that God showed me the way and gave me the ability to succeed. 

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  1. We surely passed each other on our way to practice and games. Sorry but I don’t remember you at Community Little League. My dad was one of the fathers that formed that league. They paid the old man , Newburgh ( not sure I spelled his name correctly ) One dollar to rent his property so we could build the fields. Great memories . Mr. Bob Koss, George Bishop and my dad, Frank Baden were three of the men that started Community Little League.

    1. Jerry, I remember batting against you once or twice. The worst guy to bat against was Mike Matthews. He had a wicked curve ball and scary fast ball.

  2. Baseball was EVERYTHING to me as a kid. Loved being the catcher. My 1 year younger brother was a fantastic player and pitched in college so he threw and I caught until junior year in high school when a phenom catcher moved in. Since my BA was right at the Mendoza line, I was going to primarily sit the bench. So I quit and threw track! I still wish that I could have been a major leaguer.

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