Spring training

Hal Newhouser
Hal Newhouser (source: Wikipedia)

It’s snowing pretty good now. Besides, it’s a school day. So even if the weather were clear, there would be no kids at the ball fields in Foster Park when I jogged by.

Saturday was a different story. There were kids at both ball fields and plenty of action. Adults batted grounders and flies. Moms and younger brothers and sisters sat in the family cars parked along side the ball fields.

As I stopped to observe, I thought the ball players didn’t seem to mind the 50 degree temperature. Yet I know from long ago experience that it really stings your hand when you catch the ball this early in the season.

I didn’t complain, though, when I was on the high school team for Blue Creek, a consolidated high school in northwest Ohio I attend part of my sophomore and junior high school years. Coach Ned Jay would have made fun of you if you complained.

He sure was a fine geometry teacher, though.

Watching the young ball players Saturday brought to mind so many baseball memories. When my son John played in the Little League near our Fort Wayne home, I found myself coaching the kids. I gave them batting practice and engaged in pitch and catch for hours on end. John and I even played catch daily in our side yard on South Anthony.

Years later, we’d drive to Cincinnati to see a Reds’ home game. One year, on opening day, we were in the stands to witness the home plate umpire suffer a fatal heart attack. Owner Marge Schott called off the game and we got tickets for a later game.

The only Big League game I saw growing up was in Detroit. My friend Dave’s parents drove us from Defiance, Ohio, to Briggs Stadium to see the Cleveland Indians, Dave’s favorite team, play the Tigers, my favorite team.

My hero Hal Newhouser pitched a nearly flawless game against the Indians’ Bob Feller. Needless to say, it was a quiet ride back home to Defiance. Still, I really appreciated the treat of seeing a real big league game.

My grandparents, Mom and Tom, in Latty, Ohio, listened to all the Tiger games on the radio. I’m sure they must have heard the game I witnessed. If there was a rain delay, Mom Hayes would switch her Crosley table radio dial from CKLW to WLW to the hear a play-by-play by Waite Hoyte for the Cincinnati Reds.

More recently, after I retired from writing editorials at The Journal Gazette, a guy in Defiance stopped by the main library there where I was signing books for visitors. He wanted to trade me a large black-bound book he had for one I had written.

It turned out the book contained the history of Defiance Little League games in the 1940s. His father, who had organized the league, compiled it. The box standings included the roster of my games, “L.Hayes, pitcher.” at the bottom of the list of names, names which I had long forgotten. Let the record show that while I didn’t get many hits myself, I did win a few games for my team, Schatz Motors.

I can’t say I watch ball games on TV any more. During the season, I do check the standings to see how the Tigers and Reds are doing in their separate leagues. At various high school reunions, I have enjoyed sharing ball playing memories with old friends, one a neighbor of my grandparents and another, my Little League catcher who became a doctor in Detroit.

I think that playing and, later, coaching baseball taught me valuable lessons about team playing and how to be a good loser. I learned something about the limits of my athletic prowess. I know the game had enriched Dad’s life. He often talked about driving to St. Louis to see World Series games one fall in the 1930s. Playing catch with him sure gave me quality time with a parent, time I might not otherwise have enjoyed.

Maybe by this coming Saturday, the snow will be gone and the Little Leaguers will be back in Foster Park getting practice in before the season commences later in the spring. When I see the line of cars and vans and hear the kids yelling, I’ll stop at the fence and watch the kids pitching, catching and taking a healthy cut at the ball. And remember.

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