From my office window I can see young men at Christian Life Academy playing baseball on their nice, well-manicured green field of dreams. Sometimes I will get locked in on them for a few minutes.
What a gorgeous place to play.
I smile when I see the boys spring into action when there is a pop fly or a hard-hit grounder and someone makes a pretty good stop. I love it. So many years ago, summer baseball was my life.
I made my first team at 9 and received a jersey that was too large. I never got in a game. The next year, I switched teams and played for the Sunbeam Trojans. We became a very good team.
I long for those simple, early days of baseball when bubblegum, Kool-Aid (Gatorade and Quick Kick had not been invented) and “Hey batter, batter” ruled the day.
We played on a rough, uneven and mostly dirt infield at Brooks Park, in the rear of what is now McKinley Middle Magnet High in Baton Rouge. The outfield had potholes, lumps and rocks, some broken glass and big patches where grass would never grow. There were gaping holes in the fence. During those days, the city government didn’t dole out much to our part of town. But you know what? The field was ours.
When I watch the Christian Life players, I think of Leonard “Skip” Brown. My cousin found him a day or so before the season started, and he knew virtually nothing about organized baseball. He was an unorthodox player who stepped backwards before swinging at the ball.
Our coaches, including my dad, tried to change him. But Skip would hit the ball a mile, so the decision was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He became a pitcher because he could throw hard. His windup was odd, but he threw so hard it didn’t make a difference.
I played football and baseball with him in high school. Skip died of cancer many years ago. He was not only a great athlete, but a principled and remarkable person.
We had a catcher, Kevin Smith, who had jokes and an infectious smile. I went on to play baseball and football with him in high school, too. He became an immigration court judge in Washington, D.C. He fell on hard times and died a few years ago after a battle with health issues.
And, there was third baseman Robbie “Sleepy” Collins. He got the nickname because he seemed to be dozing off until the ball was hit to him, and he would spring into action with a great catch and throw. We also played together in high school. I haven’t seen him in a while. He was shot and paralyzed many years ago. The last time we talked, we reminisced about those Sunbeam days.
Felix “Bro-Bro” Smith (Bro-Bro was pronounced Bruh-Bruh) was one of our better players. He could hit home runs and throw well. His dad, Mr. Freddie, worked for our sponsor, Sunbeam Bakery. He gave us a dollar for a homerun and pitching a winning game. We got 25 cents for just playing. Bro-Bro and I were close friends forever and played together in high school, too. After some hard times, he died more than 10 years ago. I miss him.
A lot of the other guys I don’t see much anymore. Our best pitcher was Weldon Campbell. We also played together through high school. Girls really liked him. I saw Weldon last year or the year before at his mother’s funeral. Maybe, he will read this, and we will see more of each other. He’s a pretty good guy to boot.
I see big Willie Mack Titus from time to time. Willie Mack was one of the strongest, most gifted young men I have ever seen. He could throw and hit a ball a mile. He went on to star in basketball at Southern University. He is a retired educator and coach.
Some of the old guys I have just lost track of. I wish I knew what had become of Gary “Rock” Williams and Melvin “Melbo” Young. Both would keep you laughing.
Almost every day, as I walked out on the practice field or in a game, I was in love with being on a team and being counted on. We were so innocent.
I liked playing so much that I played after breaking my thumb during a practice. I went to Dr. Donald Harris’ office. I had to play. He basically put a splint on my thumb and taped it up. So I had to accept the pain and redo the splint — a popsicle stick — every day. All these wimpy professional ballplayers now are out 4-6 weeks with a broken finger. What chumps.
What about me? I was decent player. I could get a base hit and pitch a little. My dad was the coach, so I had to get screamed at the most. You know, taking it for the team.
I stopped the other day to watch a couple minutes of a game at CLA. Someone hit a ball to the shortstop, and the kid made the play. But it didn’t look as smooth as “Skip” throwing to me at first base, or “Sleepy” rising up from deep in the hole at third to throw a guy out.
I kinda want to tell those CLA players, “You guys may be good, but you got nothing on the 1966 Little League Sunbeam Trojans.”
Email Ed Pratt, a former Advocate staffer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.