By Edd Merritt, Contributor
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don’t care if I never get back
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Spring is coming. For me that means the start of baseball season. It’s a game that goes back to my own youth, and it carried on over the years in Little League form through my sons.
In Minnesota baseball season was introduced in a variety of ways. A bunch of towns in the southeastern part of the state each had teams. Our major rival was Austin—the “Packers,” named such because that’s where Hormel Foods was headquartered. Our homecoming float my senior year in high school told those of us on the football team to “Clam the Spam,” and it drove down Broadway showing a clam capturing a can of Spam. That year we did “clam” them and took home the “Big Nine League” trophy.
Meanwhile, though, let me move ahead 25 years to the point in my life where I decided to put my baseball knowledge to work with Charlotte Little League.
My younger son, Ian, decided the pitcher’s mound was his place on the field where he could contribute most to the team.
He did that much of the time. However, like many 10-year-olds, he periodically could not find the plate with the ball.
That, however, was an easy fix. One turned from pitcher into dancer, your feet prancing on the mound and brushing dirt off the rubber. If dancing did not help, eyes Heavenward, praying for strikes might do the trick.
The Charlotte home diamond in those days rested up the hill from the town beach in West Charlotte. It was considerably less sophisticated than today’s field, including places to sit. There, they were called car seats. These were bleachers.
The Tuttle house front yard captured many foul balls and awaited an apologizing parent to cross the street and pick them from Tuttle dog territory. Apparently, “Little League leather” was a tasty item.
Jim Manchester kept the infield in good shape by dragging rusted bed springs (sans mattress) behind his tractor between innings.
Right field sloped to the lake, so that balls hit over the right fielder’s head were likely to end on the beach—maybe even in the water if it happened to be rainy season.
Since the majority of Little Leaguers hit right-handed and most of the balls carried into left field, as coaches we tended to put our least skilled outfielders in right field where they often learned more about the dandelions under their feet than the proclivities of the opposing batters. Fortunately, one of my fellow coaches was also our right fielder’s father, and he did not fail to remind his son that he was on a baseball team, in a game that took place in Vermont. Keep his eyes toward home plate. The Adirondacks will remain to his west. If anything distant, think Camel’s Hump.
Well, these are just a few examples of how sports play off elements of human nature that have very little—if nothing at all—to do with game itself.
Why focus on a mound dance instead of your grip on a Louisville Slugger? On the hockey rink, a missed goal can often be corrected by a “blue line boogie.”
Speaking of “mound dances,” you may be interested in watching the Red Sox bring in their closing relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel some night. He has a habit of looking like a “robo-copter” as he gets the sign from his catcher. Kimbrel sticks both arms out from his shoulders and drops them down at the elbows, then glares menacingly at his teammate’s fingers behind home plate.
It’s as much mind as matter from what I can see.
So, when all is said and done, just take me back to those “Glory Days.”
Clipping on my chest protector and buckling my shin guards before crouching behind home plate, I was ready to scan what I considered to be my diamond and outfield. The latter often proved dangerous to its human inhabitants, as the turf became a slippery landing ground for dead fish flies coming in from the Mississippi River.
And so we play our games out of mind as well as out of our bodies, discovering, after all is said, done and maneuvered, it’s time to “put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”