My friend Calvin Beal died recently. He was well known around Baton Rouge for his willingness to joke, laugh and to continue talking. Beal, I never called him Calvin, was not perfect. But that line of perfect people is very, very short. I accepted him as he was.
Beal was noted as a great baseball pitcher at Tara High and at Southern University. He had a stint in the minor leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He came back and was a volunteer coach at SU for many years.
He was also a mainstay and leader at the famous Purple Circle Social Club in old South Baton Rouge.
While I mourn his loss, and pray for his family and friends, the story here is how we met and a gesture by his dad that made a little boy feel 10 feet tall.
During the summer that I would turn 9 years old, my cousin and a couple other neighborhood boys, all several years older than me, mentioned they would be playing something called Little League Baseball. I thought that I could give it a shot, too.
When we got to the practice field, it was basically an open lot and not much else. No baselines, no real infield and no evenly cut grass. No dugout. No benches. It was heaven.
After some throwing and catching, the coach, Columbus Beal, Calvin’s dad, called out to the guys and started sending people to positions. Beal and I were told to “Go over there,’ there being the equivalent of the bench. Our jobs, being too young and too small, were to chase errant throws and stand out in the outfield sometimes.
After a couple practices, Mr. Beal handed out the uniforms for the next day’s game. I knew I wasn’t going to make the team.
I was heartbroken when he finished passing out uniforms and I didn’t get one. I didn’t dare show it. Mr. Beal turned to me and handed out a jersey. “Here you go,” he said. The jersey was way too big, but I wanted to hug him.
He told us to wash the uniforms and to “put a creeeaassse in them pants.” His voice cracked every time he said that word.
I held tight to the shirt all the way home. There would have been blood in the streets if someone would have tried to take it from me.
I told my grandmother I needed to have the jersey washed and ironed before our game the next day. Early the next morning I went outside with her when she hung the shirt on the clothesline.
Shortly after noon, I got on a foot tub and took the jersey from the clothesline and handed it to my grandmother, who was miffed that I didn’t bring in all of the dried clothes and towels.
In short order, though, she got the irons (you had an iron getting hot on the stove while you used the other) ready for the shirt. I reminded her about the “creeeaassse.” Minutes later, you could literally lean the shirt against a wall.
Mr. Beal smiled after inspecting my very crisp shirt. I never got in a game that season. I can’t remember if Beal got in. (He could have. I mean, the coach was his dad.) Beal’s older brother was a starter. We mostly just sat and talked and ran to get whatever his dad wanted.
But as life would have it, Beal and I competed against each other later in Little League when my dad coached a team, then in junior high and high school. He is in the Tara High hall of fame. I was the batting champion on my baseball team in 11th grade, not for home runs, Lord no, but for the highest batting average.
We continued our friendship. Often, when we crossed paths, we would reminisce about the old times.
A few weeks ago Beal called my name during a speech he was giving at a funeral for a friend of ours whom we met playing Little League Baseball. It was the last time we would see each other.
I often wonder what would have happened if Mr. Beal had cut me from the team — which he should have — instead of giving me that giant jersey. Would I have gotten in trouble that summer with so much free time on my hands?
When I got word of Beal’s death, I instantly thought about those weeks in the summer of 1964. Though tiny, I was a legit baseball player and part of a team. I could prove it by showing any doubter my overly starched Imperial Grocery baseball jersey.
And, if that wasn’t enough, I had my friend Beal to prove it. I don’t anymore and I’m sad about that.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column at firstname.lastname@example.org.