My father was a star athlete in multiple sports.
He even went on to play semi-pro baseball.
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.
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.
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.
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?
:) :) :)