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?

🙂 🙂 🙂

 

16 thoughts on “Almost Famous

  1. Fabulous. Incredible coming of age story. So moving. You really drop the reader into not just another time, but the sensations of young boy just at the start of feeling his oats, marveling in his skills, his boyhood, the splendors of the game. Which. also, made me feel for the glories of a growing American boy, something barely mentioned these days, and worth powerful praise, worth acknowledging. I’m furious on your behalf that your mother didn’t get you to the World Series. How wrong! And that your beautiful, strong dad wasn’t there for you that summer. He raised you right, didn’t he, in those short years you had him he saw you and knew you and loved you. He’d be very proud of the way you’ve carried on. He sounds like the prime first adventurer of your early years and that’s a good legacy.

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    • When you lose a parent early the difficulty later is trying to separate fact from mythology. He took on a larger than life dimension and I really know very little about his actual personality. I have only about a dozen memories of him, but they suffice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am compelled to say I think you’re lucky, John, for what appears to be a really focused affection from your dad, his wanting you to have a great life, in spite of the terrible tragedy of losing him too soon. My parents, in the first 17 years of my life intensely and periferally after that, remain total strangers to me. They never spoke about their lives, or their dreams, or connected with me or cared if I lived or died. I would have traded your six years. I’m so sorry your dad’s gone. I think you turned out pretty darn good.

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  2. This comment is from college friend, Dick Huss. He went to a good school and is allegedly intelligent but can’t figure out how to post a comment, so I append it here.

    Oops …

    Once again you have struck a cord (or is it accord?) with me in your “Almost Famous” post. Plus … I personally know of the Legendary Boog Powell and played football against him my freshman year in HS, 1956-57 when Powell was a senior and played tackle for an awesome, fierce and totally mean Key West Conchs football team. He singlehandedly demolished the Miami Jackson Generals. No one ever wanted to play Key West, especially down there. They were the outlaws of FL high school football.

    On a lighter note, we did also travel to Lakeland twice (where I think you lived) during my high school sports career and fortunately (for us) beat the hell out of your beloved Dreadnaughts. I think I was the only guy on the Jackson team that knew what the fuck a Dreadnaught was. Did I see you there or were you playing golf and tennis by then?

    Moving closer to the primary goal of “Almost Famous,” the attached is a copy of a crossword puzzle I recently finished. I do puzzles to pretend that I’m staving off the ravages of fast and lose living, 7-11 Big Gulp sized vodkas, and countless bags of Fritos. Note #7 Down, which I have marked in red ink.

    Now I know you are no doubt related in some way to Rutherford B. Hayes, Gabby Hayes, Helen Hayes and maybe even Isaac Hayes (ethnicity denied). But, the number of times the name “Huss” appears anywhere but on a police blotter is, indeed, rare. I have e-filed this piece of work and am amazed that i have the capacity to retrieve it to share with you as an example of my own very close brush with fame.

    I would post this on Giblets and Flapdoodle, but that is above my electronic communications prowess. Feel free to share it with your loyalists, if you care, dare or otherwise want to.

    As for your story … Sobresaliente, Senor Hayes. Tu estas un escritor maravilloso … and you’re also a helluva writer … Huss

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    • Huss,

      In high school you only got a silly looking letter sweater if you played golf or tennis, but football and baseball teams got the coveted letter (bomber-type) jackets. Girls liked the jackets, so my senior year I set out to get me one. (If they were wearing one with your name on it, that meant you were going “steady.”) I walked into the Dreadnaught tryout room at the beginning of the year intending to be a star on the football team and win a jacket, shed my acne, become popular, etc. As soon as I entered the room to sign up I knew I had made a mistake. The first clue was that I was looking UP to everyone, and the second was I couldn’t see around their girths. Skinny me rushed out of the room almost crying, knowing then and there I would never take a cheerleader to the prom.

      We hated the Miami football team, forget which one was our rival. You guys were dirty and prone to starting fights – and besides, you always whipped us.

      Yes, Boog moved to Key West and became a holy terror. Didn’t know he played football but at his size, hell, why not?

      Here’s a story I bet you don’t remember…

      We both played baseball for Billy O. at FPC. Tom Bacon was pitching, I was catching, you (I think, and this would have been before you broke your collarbone clumsily running into the shortstop after a grounder) were at third base. Bacon threw a called strike on the batter. I immediately, as is customary, fired the ball down to you to whip around the horn. Two problems here. One, it was only strike two on the batter, he wasn’t out yet. Two, I dribbled the ball down to you, didn’t make a clean throw, it bounced. Talk about embarrassment on my part, and surely you and the whole world (well, one or two spectators were probably standing around) were astonished! What the %#@$!

      I was on the team, yes, but I had no baseball skills left. I had not played since little league, probably 8 years earlier. The game had passed me by. The same with golf. I once beat Bob Murphy (pro + current NBC golf analyst) in a tournament playoff when we were 14 years old. He cried. But I quit, like I always quit things (baseball, golf, tennis, grad school) when I start to get good, can’t stand success, and although I played on the team at FPC for a short while, I just made a fool of myself.

      Yes, I am related to Rutherford B., but only if you draw a line that’s an asymptote. I know just enough history to know that he was one of the worst Presidents we ever had.

      Crossword puzzle, what the hell is that all about? Do you crochet too?

      Keep your head above water and stay more in touch…

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    • In the crossword puzzle I sent to Oops, the clue for #7 down is “pre-Reformation reformer” … the answer is “Huss.” That’s my brush with fame … Since the crossword is contained in a book edited by NY Times puzzle gurus and editors and is distributed nationally, I think my brush with fame should be considered as a “very close brush.”

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        • As long as they use the proper tools to remove the ravages of age on my 72 year old body! Actually, every AM when I roll out of bed and trundle into the bathroom too splash water on my face, I pause, look into the mirror and say, “Huss, you dawg!” I love, love, love “denial.”

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      • So, Richard, you are descended from Attila the Hus, the guy who took on Hannibal’s elephants with a slingshot? Was he later the epileptic who fell down and found God, became a reformer, got himself beheaded? Nice ancestry. 😀

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        • One can only try to live up to one’s ancestry. Attila fathered an entire continent … I only produced 4 known off-spring. Attila was also as stupid as he was fearless … imagine taking down elephants with slingshots … I did use my brother’s .22 rifle on gar fish … did not mount any of my “kills” for my trophy room ( which to this day remains trophy-less). I also think being epileptic and falling down are requisites for finding God. Historically, reformers have experienced very, very short life spans which is why I’m sticking to my vodka and Fritos life diet.

          Oh … as for your use of “asymptote” in our privately exchanged emails, I’ll have more to say after I figure out what the F*&# it really means.

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