Human Condition: Pinstripe passion spurs lifelong love of sports _lowres


The year was 1960, and it was an exciting new decade. Johnny Cash was a big country star, Sen. John F. Kennedy was running for president and Elvis Presley would soon be discharged from the Army. And my south Louisiana family discovered we were living with a 10-year-old boy who lived and breathed his favorite team — Theee Neeew Yorrrk Yankeeees!

However, neither of his parents were particularly sports-minded or even very athletic. Neither was I, his 9-year-old sister.

But his enthusiasm for the New York Yankees was contagious, and the whole family was swept up in his excitement!

His baseball bats and balls were always nearby, and I do believe his right-handed glove was attached to his left hand. He was constantly punching his fist or “socking” a baseball into the glove to form that perfect pocket for snatching a fly ball or a grounder. He organized our front-yard softball games. Though we lived in the country and neighbors were scattered, he always managed to put together a couple of scraggly teams of big and little kids for a fun summer afternoon.

Like many young boys during that golden era, he spent most of his money, earned from mowing yards and selling Grit newspapers, on bubblegum packs that contained collectible baseball cards. But he didn’t just collect baseball cards.

He studied and memorized players’ statistics. He talked incessantly about his favorite Yankees — Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Hector Lopez, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek and Joe Pepitone and, most especially, about his idols, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

To this day, I can still name all those players because they joined us every night for supper. Yep, it was just like they were sitting right there at our dining table, eating Mama’s home cooking.

What fun it was to watch him watch Theee Neeew Yorrrk Yankeeees on our black-and-white TV. On his knees, bouncing up and down in Mama’s Naugahyde-covered platform rocker, screaming at the top of his lungs. We just knew it had to be better than being in Yankee Stadium. Daddy would get so tickled just watching him. He was cheering for his Neeeew Yorrrk Yankeeees when they won back-to-back World Series in 1961 and 1962.

His lifelong love of sports has endured for nigh on 55 years. He played high school football and college rugby. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a coach and spent nearly 40 years as an educator.

For more than 45 years, he has organized, cheered, coached, refereed, umpired and inspired multiple generations of children.

He’s still living the dream in retirement, traveling throughout south Louisiana calling baseball, football and basketball games.

I can’t think of anyone who’s given more of himself and had a greater impact on his community and our youth than my brother, coach Gene Hampton.

And, yes, folks, he still has his baseball card collection.

— Wehr lives in Slidell

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