The crack of a bat and the pop in the catcher’s mitt denotes the beginning of baseball (and softball) season for area schools, colleges and the pros.
The first little league game I ever suited up for was with a Dallas Boys Baseball Incorporated (BBI) team called the Yankees. Two Ford Motor Company employees, my Dad and our across Huttig Street neighbor, Tracy Wright, were the coaches.
The team name was the Yankees and we were a Pleasant Grove team with workouts based at Umphress Park across from Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary School. My dad had been approached by Bill Sparks who already had a great organization with the purple and gold clad Little O’s. The neighborhood had grown so much there was a need for another team. Sparks talked to my dad about starting a new team and getting Grove kids more opportunity to be able to play. And that’s how our run with the Yankees and BBI began in the summer of 1960. With the continued growth of our area, another team, the Braves, was also started.
We did not have T-Ball, coach pitch or any of those things we have today. We were just a bunch of neighborhood kids who played baseball all day long in the summer and then played again on our teams at night. We had to “try out” to make a team and unless you were really good, you sat on the bench a year or two until you were one of the “older” guys and you got your chance. The only time you got a trophy was when you won. There were no ribbons or trophies for participation, no championship t-shirts or rings. You played for the love of the sport.
There was no travel or elite baseball at the time. If you won or were runner-up, you got to go to the playoffs. Our goal was always to beat the Little O’s and go to the playoffs, a feat which took us three seasons to finally accomplish. The age bracket was 9, 10 and 11 year olds.
I know in this era of everybody gets to bat and everybody gets a trophy, ribbon, or even a ring today, the way I feel is not the accepted norm. I remember working my tail off at every practice, hoping to play or at least bat just one time. That time never came my first year. I was basically a bat boy and a water boy. But I knew my time would come. The next year I was able to come off the bench and contribute, but never actually was a starter. The final year in what we called Class A ball, I was a starter and played each game. You just did not complain and neither did mommy and daddy. You worked until you were ready to be a starter.
I learned at a young age if you work hard, you will eventually find success. After my year as a starter, I was moved up to the 12 and 13 year old Yankees and again, I had to wait my turn. All I knew to do was work hard and support my teammates, even those playing my position who were older (and better) than me.
At the end of the year, Dallas BBI gave out awards to teams who made the playoffs and the most coveted award was the Sportsmanship Trophy. When I moved on up the Class 3A (14 and 15 year olds) my Yankee team made it the district finals, but fell in a 3-2 classic against friends of mine who played for the Kip’s Big Boy’s baseball team. We lost with two outs in the last inning when an opposing player swung late and hit a ball down the right field line for a home run. That Kip’s team went on to win state and go to a national championship tournament that year.
We did win the Sportsmanship Award that year and I still have that team trophy to this day. We learned to shake hands and show honor and respect for our opponents regardless of who won or lost.
Baseball taught me about working hard to get results. The game taught me to respect my coaches and my teammates. It taught me to play hard every pitch and not let my teammates down. It taught me friendship meant more than winning. The game humbled me many times, so I got quite a few lessons in humility. Baseball taught me what working together for a common goal can accomplish. I learned how to win with honor and lose with dignity.
As we head to spring little league baseball and softball, may we remember why we play the game. Kids need to learn respect for their coaches and the umpires who call the games. Parents and guardians, please help your coaches teach the kids it is truly how you play that matters. If you are going to complain about coaches or umpires, do it on your own time, not in front of the kids. Better yet, maybe you need to volunteer to coach or even be an umpire. It’s so easy to complain and criticize when you are sitting in your lawn chair finding fault with others. Maybe it’s time to walk a mile in their shoes.