Almost Famous

My father was a star athlete in multiple sports.

George Hayes, basketball photo

He even went on to play semi-pro baseball.

George Hayes, baseball photoIt is not difficult to guess what kind of presents I got before I could even walk: ball, bat, glove.

After dinner we would push back our chairs, tie a cloth napkin into a knot and play catch across the table.  I never missed.

I mention this because I just caught a glimpse on TV of kids in this year’s Little League World Series.  It’s a big deal, apparently, and it rekindled in me a memory from 60 years ago.

In 1954 I was an All-Star on the only Little League team from Lakeland, Florida that ever went to the World Series.  I read online that today the kids are 11- and 12-years old, although I was only 10 at the time.

Litle League 1 as Smart Object-1

Boog Powell, later famous as an MVP first-baseman with the World Series (1966, 1970) Baltimore Orioles, and as a guzzling beer-drinker in the “more taste, less filling” Miller Lite commercials, was our pitcher.  He was the biggest little leaguer anyone ever saw back then.  Sometimes, when not playing third base, I was behind the plate as a catcher, and when Boog wound up and threw a fast ball into my mitt it would literally pick me up and knock me backwards.

Back then, the Little League tournaments were single-elimination. When you lost, you were out.

The Lakeland Orange All-Stars won eight straight games in the district, sectional and regional tournaments, outscoring their opponents, 38-9, to earn their trip to Williamsport.

After winning the district tournament in Dade City, Lakeland defeated Orlando and Fort Walton Beach in the sectional tournament in Lakeland.

That earned them a train trip to Greenville, N.C., for the South Regional tournament.

“I remember seeing the Tennessee team and they were just huge,” he [Charles Taylor, catcher & Boog Powell’s half-brother] said. “But they got knocked off before we played. And I remember thinking, `Whew. We don’t have to play Tennessee. Did you see those giants?’ “

With Tennessee out of the way, Lakeland defeated Middleburg, Ky., 8-3, Mooresville, N.C., 2-0, and Columbia, S.C., 6-0, to earn its trip to Williamsport.

Lakeland Ledger, August 24, 2004

Actually, to set the record straight, I was on the roster but didn’t make the trip to Williamsport to play in the World Series. My mother wouldn’t let me go.  She said she had already planned a family vacation at the beach.me

It would never have occurred to my mother that playing in a World Series might be important enough to one of her sons to rearrange a summer vacation.

I wish my dad could have had a say-so in this matter, but he suffocated in an iron lung 4 years earlier, when I was six.

:( :( :(

I was a Little League All-Star the next year, too, when I was eleven.

In a playoff game in Plant City, ninth inning, we were behind 1-0 and I was the tying run on first base. (I had blasted two of our team’s total of three hits.) Ill-advisedly, I tried to score from first base on a looper to right field.  I was thrown out by the proverbial mile.

I had another year of Little League eligibility, but I quit. A coach from the Pony League, the advanced age group of 13-15 year olds, told me (age 12) he would lie about my age and sneak me onto their team if I would play for them.

But by then I had developed an interest in golf and tennis.

Oh! – have I told you how I was almost famous… in golf?  and tennis?

:) :) :)