Practice starting at eight A. M. Monday morning! We have been playing ball since five A. M. every day since I was three-and-a-half years old. Now we are going have practice! What do you mean, “practice”? Play ball, we go out and play ball. Practice?
So, sure enough, at eight A. M. on that Monday morning there is practice, and where do you think it is held? It is held at the local public park. We have booked the ball field. Who books a ball field?—what is this jazz!
I am engaging now in my first game of infield practice. Mr. Gordon is there with his baseball cap on. He says, “Alright, fellows, here comes one,” and he misses it. He’s hitting ground balls to us, and then he says, “Alright, now we’re going to shag flies.” First time I ever saw a fungo bat. So he’s hitting fly balls. Then he says, “Alright, now, all you fellows in left field, I want seven turns jogging around the track.” This went on for three days! We did not play one game of baseball!
Then he says, “Now we are going to have squad elimination.” Squad elimination? He says, “Alright, Schwartz, you’re out, you don’t play. Flick, you’re left field, Shepherd, you’re playing third base, Emdee, you’re out, you don’t play.” And then for the team he brings in a lot of guys we never saw before. And worst of all, he issued us caps we had to sign for!
Twenty minutes into the first game, Shepherd slides into second, rips the behind out of his pants, comes trotting in and Mr. Gordon says, “That’ll be four dollars.” Four dollars? What is this? In the stands there are old guys from the Legion post hollering, “Hey, kid, when you gonna hit the ball? Gordon, take that kid out!”
It begins to disintegrate into an organized scene of: this kid plays, that guy doesn’t, this kid has wrecked his uniform, that guy shows up wearing a red T-shirt and he’s fined a quarter, this kid has to take two hours of extra infield practice because he made three errors in one game, that kid is yanked in the middle of the second inning because he walked two guys.
Walked two guys—let me tell you, in Mrs. Striker’s vacant lot, nobody walked anybody! We didn’t have balls and strikes. You either hit it or you didn’t! It was as simple as that. And you never saw such fielding as you saw in Mrs. Striker’s lot. We used to field ground balls off the fire hydrant. I’d play the carom off of Flick’s hide. But I found that after I had been fielding taped balls that were the size of cantaloupes and had lumps all over them, I couldn’t field the real round ball— coming at me, the real white one would blind me. I could not field a real ball.
More baseball to come