Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sports And Me

Boys and sports are supposed to go together. What is a more nostalgic picture than a father and son playing catch? But my father wasn't around much in my childhood. I can't recall he and I ever having a catch with baseball or football. My grandfather was about, but tossing balls wasn't in his repertoire either. His sport was fox hunting, but there wasn't much opportunity to go out in the backyard and toss a fox around.

When I was five my grandfather did give me a bunch of sports paraphernalia, a baseball uniform, glove, bat and catcher's mask. That is me squatted down in the photo, rather out of position for a catcher. (The other two boys are Tim Mahan with the bat and Billy Smith. They were my best friends in those days.) The bat my grandfather gave me was an Official Stan Musial Signature Louisville Slugger. It weighted 36 ounces and was about that length in inches. I don't know if that is the bat Timmy's holding or not. It was really too big for a child my age, but it was what I learned to hit with and I used that bat forever. I mean, I still have that bat, although it is pockmarked and Stan's signature long ago wore off and there is a crack down one side held closed with duct tape now.

In those early years of my life, boys really only engaged in three sports, baseball, football and basketball. (Hockey was strictly a girl's game in those years. I recall somewhere at some school a boy went out for the field hockey team, but they made him wear one of those little plaid skirts. ) Because of circumstances beyond my control, I was isolated from other children for some of my first grade school years. Halfway through third grade we moved into Downingtown and I found myself an outsider, often teased and not very knowledgable about team sports. In grade school others didn't want me on their team when sides were chosen. Although I was not usually the last player picked, I was often sort of ignored during the game.

Yet I really wasn't too bad when I began to learn the sports, especially in baseball and football. I even had a football uniform, with shoulder pads and helmet. I think my grandmother gave me that outfit. I liked the rough and tumble of football and usually played running back, because I was fast and hard to catch. The only thing I didn't like was being piled upon by a bevy of boys. I sort of panicked if I was buried beneath a half-dozen other kids with my face smashed into the ground. Once I got kicked in the throat while squashed beneath such a scrum and thought I was going to die, but nonetheless, the older I got the more I enjoyed the violence of the sport. When I was in high school we used to play our pickup games in a graveyard with a couple of tombstones as the goal line.

I would never go out for the teams at school, though. I had such a fear of being made fun of in those days I wouldn't have chanced failing at anything in front of others. I was content to play in pick-up games with friends and acquaintances.

Whenever there was a chance to play baseball I took it. Despite owning that catcher's mask, I wanted to pitch...at first...and for a brief awhile. In grade school I use to pitch in these playground games until one day I caught a line drive in the solar plexus and crumbled to the ground in a pile of pain. After that I preferred the outfield. The further away from batter and ball the better.

I tried out for one team while I lived in Downingtown. There was not in those days a Little League team in town, but there was Babe Ruth Baseball for boys over 13 and up. My friend Stuart (pictured left) and I tried out for Babe Ruth when I was 14, but my family moved out of town before the rosters were announced, so I never got to play. I don't really know if Stuart made the team or not.

When I started at my new school after the move, I was approached by a coach about playing basketball.  The only qualification I had was being tall. I am six foot. Back in 1956 that height was well above average. Now, I was good at volleyball, bad mitten, ping pong and tennis. It seemed I excelled at games with a net, but not basketball. Oh, no, I could throw the ball through the hoop and in games of PIG and HORSE could certainly hold my own, but on the basketball court I was completely lost. I was constantly confused by the fouls. I didn't know what the heck they were talking about. Traveling, of course I'm traveling cause I'm trying to get down there where the net is. Everybody around me is traveling too. Double dribble? What are you talking about? I don't have anything running down my chin. All that chaos going on put me in a trance. If someone said, "Toss me the ball," I would, it didn't matter if it was a guy on the other team or not.  As I  noted, I could throw the ball through the hoop, but chances were I'd do this through the one on the wrong side of the court and score two points for the opposition.

In my senior year at high school they had tournaments for wrestling and boxing. I went undefeated in both. In my final wrestling bout Phil Hahn was my opponent. He out weighted me by fifty pounds, but I prevailed. At some point he whacked me hard on the nose with his elbow. When the bout was over all I heard was the gym teacher yelling, "Who got blood on my new mats?" That would be me. Blood was streaming out of my nose.

I was best at boxing. I don't know how good my technique was, but I could take a punch. You might knock me down, but I always got up and I would just keep going like the Energizer Bunny.

I might as well mention I also won the sit-up competition.

Perhaps the success I had in boxing and wrestling, and sit-ups,  gave me some confidence. I finally went out for an actual team in my senior year. I joined the track team. That is the team on the left, so where's Waldo? We were not a great team. We lost every one of our meets, but one. We beat Phoenixville in our final meet and it was the one I came closest to winning my event. (If you are looking for Waldo, he isn't there, but I am. I'm the guy in the dark sweatshirt and glasses near the right side three rows up.)

Now here is the thing about me and track. In the beginning there were tryouts in all the events. I stood out in the mile run. I had the fastest time, just over 5 minutes. It was, in fact, a very good time for a teenager who had never ran a mile before. The record at that time was something like 4 minutes 12 seconds for a high schooler. The coach wanted me to be a long distance guy. He figured with some training I could press that 4 minute 12 second mark.

I didn't see it that way.

I hated running and I knew the milers ran all the time. That was all they did, run, run and run some more. I decided to shot the put and fling the discus instead. The shot putters and discus throwers were called weight men. Most of the kids who did these events were big and heavy. I was not. I was tall, but slender and I had never been know for my upper body strength. However, weight guys ran the least, so that was for me. Of course, I didn't stand much chance against some of the behemoths the other schools rolled out to the throwing circles. I was like a popgun in the middle of a cannonade.

I was a bit better with the discus. It was a lighter missile, kind of a frisbee on steroids. Throwing these things goes back to antiquity, but at least the school allowed us to wear a uniform.

If I remember rightly, and at my age that is not guaranteed, one began standing at a slight crouch with one's back to the field inside a circle. Some places had actual wooden circles, but most had circles drawn in lime. On my one brief moment of glory, the circle was wood. The tosser would then spin about inside this circle and as one approached the front edge would release the discus into the air with a mighty fling of the arm.

You got three flings.

On this particular day, our last meet of the year in Phoenixville, I was the last competitor in the discus and had come to my third and final fling. I crouched, I spun, I released and gloryoski that discus was arcing far out over the football field and when it came slashing down it was further than any fling by any flinger before me. I teetered there on one foot watching victory and then I bounced again the wooden frame and tapped my other foot down and outside the circle.

I had fouled. I was disqualified. I was disgraced. My team went on to win the meet, our only win of the year, which is supposed to be of consequence since it is a team and that is the object, but it was little solace to loser me.

I've played my share of sports since those boyhood days, bowling, tennis and golf mostly. I was on a church league softball team in the 1970s and I was the best hitter with an average somewhere over .800. We played softball a lot in Junior High Gym and I could never seem to catch the softball when it was hit my way. My way was right field, because that is where they put guys who couldn't catch. I could catch hard balls just fine, so I blamed this inability on not having a glove. But when I played in the church league we wore softball gloves, but I was back in right field because I still couldn't catch a softball. I wonder why? I mean, the thing is big so you have to see it coming at you like some huge white meteorite from outer space that is going to crash into you hand, glove or not, and take your arm off up to the elbow...but I digress.

At any rate, my sports playing days are pretty much over, I guess, unless walking counts.




2 comments:

Sean R said...

I'm a friend of Ron's. He got me into this blogging thing. I really love your stories!

Sean

Ron said...

Sean,

My friend Larry has the best stories and he is an excellent writer! He has told a lot of stories on his blog and he hasn't even scratched the surface. Larry and I have known each other since 3rd grade. He is a very special person in my life. I'm glad you found his blog.

Ron