Monday, April 05, 2010

Slide and Prejudice...

I tell this story every year around opening day of baseball season. I hope you enjoy it, in spite of its lengthiness...

The weather is really warming up here in Bagwine, Ohio. I have so many fond memories of my childhood and the fun we had when the weather got warm.

One of my fondest memories, is that of playing Little League baseball. I played LLB from the age of 9 through 12…four long seasons of loss after humiliating loss.

Our team was looked upon as a team of troublemakers…a team from the wrong side of the tracks.

Our best pitcher, Goody, would frequently hit the opposing batters.

We forgot that our parents were there and we would cuss, we never slid into a base; we would always plow into the kid who was trying to tag us out.

Even our coach (who went on to become a preacher) would routinely get ejected for arguing with the ump. But you know what?

We were playing baseball.

Most of our team couldn’t hit well, field a fly ball or grounder, or run very fast…We were underdogs, yet we were the embodiment of how baseball used to be played and how it should still be played.

Of course how we played only reinforced the perceptions of the other parents as to what we were.

See, the league in which we played was composed almost entirely of kids from well-to-do white families who all claimed to have had ancestors aboard the Mayflower.

Our team was made up of ruffians…poor and middle class white trash and yes, Blacks!! Even our coach…Black!! Oh the humanity!!

Our fathers weren’t doctors, lawyers, and/or bankers.

We were the sons and even the daughter (Brooke), of working class stiffs, who got uppity and moved to the North end of town, which at the time, could have been the inspiration for the song “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.

It was 1974 and the unspoken prejudices of an “integrated” society were being felt…race and class issues, taking the field.

With the exception of our parents and team mates, we were not referred to by our own names or our team name…We were referred to as, “them”.

It wasn’t really the players (although yeah, there were some real ass clowns) on the other teams that were jerks. It was of course, their parents.

The cashmere wearing dads sporting mid-70s state of the art LCD watches and their frigid Stepford wives who were “uncomfortable”, not to mention rude were there, but...

They would complain to the league that we were being too rough because little Johnny got run over at home plate and we were just not very well-behaved.

But you know what, even though we were young, we knew what was going on and we reveled in it. We put it right back in the faces of those uptight pretentious phonies.

Our catcher, Biscuit, who happened to be one of our black players, would mimic the South African Khoi-Khoin clicking language as the batter stood in the box waiting for the pitch.

Instead of saying “Hey Batter, Batter” the rest of us would murmur “Mama’s Boy, Got No Bat”.

Our plowing into their basemen got harder, and our amusement of those stiff parents became much more noticeable. We were the Little Rascals on Meth.

We slowly, yet steadily improved over those four years. We won three games the first year, four the next, and six the third year.

In our last year together, Goody, managed to hit fewer batters and throw more strikes. Brooke caught every fly ball near her, and ran the bases like a deer.

Biscuit’s tongue was not the only thing clacking, so was his bat, and he sent more than a couple of fastballs over the fence. And me, I batted .542 that season.

We went 13-3. We were so bad for so long and now we were league champions, and when the final out had come, our parents stood and clapped, but the best thing was so did all of the others.

That was nearly 35 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. We were a group of kids who overcame a lack of skills and turned unwarranted racial and class prejudices into a motivational tool.

We avoided turning any anger we felt inward and instead, put it out there in the form of playground humor and a nicely turned double play. In the end, not only did we win…Everybody won.

And that's the name of that story...and our championship.



bobbybegood1 said...

Y'Know I'm all mush, right? What a lovely and poignant story. Sometimes adults learn their greatest lessons from children. Cheers Matt!! And Happy Easter!

Matt-Man said...

Bobby: And one that sticks to me to this day. Thanks. And Happy Easter and a good week to you. Cheers Michelle!!

Charlene said...

That's a great story. I bet you're still friends with some of those guys.

Your mention of "frigid Stepford wives" brought to mind a joke.

What do you say to a guy who complains his wife is frigid?

No she isn't.

Matt-Man said...

Charlene: Ha..Very good. And yes, I still am close to a couple of them. Cheers Charlene!!

Jay said...

Very inspiring story!

Happy Easter Matt-Man. And enjoy that pizza! ;-)

Matt-Man said...

Jay: I do almost cry remembering some of the stuff I heard. Not about us "white kids" but about my coach and some of the players on our team. Ugh.

And as I am one to eat late, I shall gorge soonly although I have I have had "one or two" pieces already. Cheers Jay!!

Clay Perry said...

nice one...

Scott Oglesby said...

Another beautiful and inspiring story out of the ruminations of Bagwine!

This sounded exactly the way I grew up. After they re-chartered the school district in Pittsburgh, a bunch of us poor, immigrant and black kids ended up going to Fox Chapel….one of the richest, old money, blue blood, stuck up public schools in the country. First we kicked their ass in ‘little league’ baseball, football and basketball then we took over their high school teams.

Phfrankie Bondo said...

...did they have hotdogs at the ball games?...

Matt-Man said...

Clay: Thanks Clay!! Cheers!!

Scott: You were a thug weren't ya? Thanks Scott!!

Phfrankie: No dammit. Cheers P-Man!!

Bond said...

Congrats on making it through another Lenten holiday.

This is a story I have always enjoyed

Dianne said...

I love this story and it brought back some memories of when my son first started playing ball at a private league
I used to love sitting in the stands and listening to the parents try to figure out where his parents were, they kept looking for black people

my son used to tell them I was his nanny and that, yes his parents were black and they only hired white people ;)

You can Call me AL said...

Great story!
I love any story about getting better.

Matt-Man said...

Bond: Thanks...on both counts. Cheers Vin!!

Dianne: Ha...That's funny. Have a wonderfuly evening, Di. Cheers!!

Al: Why thank ya Al. We had nowhere to go but up when we first started playing together. Cheers Al!!