It has been quite a while since I played baseball, but there are some things I remember well about my time on the diamond. I want to share some of the memories I have of my favorite sport – the one I participated in the longest.
At nine years old, I played my first organized baseball games at the Phenix City Boys Club as a member of the Mets, a team with 27 players coached by Jack Revolta. “Mr. Jack,” as we called him instead of coach, never turned down a kid who wanted to play the sport. That is why the Mets had more than double the number of kids than the other teams in the league. In my first season, I played second base – and not very well I might add. By my second season, I was a first baseman.
The Mets were without a doubt the worst team in the league, but we did not know that at the time. Mr. Jack treated us as if we were the best team. We had a banquet following each season and trophies were given out to players for playing well. If you played all four years, nine to 12 years old, you received a trophy for sticking it out, I guess was the reason.
When I moved up to the next level, I was on Joe Rumph’s Giants. I played first base for the Giants and it was during this time I had my first big moment in the sport of baseball. In my first season, the Giants made the playoffs. It was a tough time for me as my family decided to take a vacation about this time. However, my father made sure we returned from vacation in time for me to play in those post-season games.
With the series tied at 1-1 in a best-of-three format, I stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded and with two outs. If I got out, we were headed to extra innings. If I could just get a hit, we would win the title. I stood in that batter’s box with a full count, three balls and two strikes, as it came down to a single pitch. The pitch was inside, but I held my spot in the box and the ball nailed me right on the arm, leaving the stitch marks from the ball. It did not hurt at all when I realized I had just gotten the winning RBI and the Giants won the title.
Mr. Rumph praised the team for winning and singled me out, not because I got hit with the ball to win the game, but because my family had sacrificed its vacation in order for me to play in the title series.
I started out the next season with the Giants, but left early in the season as my father was ordered to Vietnam. My family moved to Needmore which is about seven miles outside of Troy. I played the rest of the year for a team in Troy, wearing an old Troy State University wool uniform. I did not know a single kid on the team and they had some fun with me in the first couple of games until I got a couple of good hits. After that, I was just one of the guys on the team.
It was in Troy that I was tossed from the only baseball game I never finished. I said “golly” about one of the calls the umpire made and he thought I said a curse word or two and sent me outside of the park. I talked to him after the game and got things straightened out. Had I cursed him as he thought, my father would have punished me something awful. Fortunately, the coach for the opposing team, who said he did not understand why I was tossed, defended me and said I had not cursed anyone when he was told the reason.
While in the Troy league, I had my worst moment in baseball ever. My coach gave me the signal to bunt one night and I stepped out of the box and shook my head. He walked up to talk to me and I told him I was a lousy bunter. He said try to bunt anyway. I did try, but the results were not what he had envisioned. With runners on first and second bases, the ball popped off my bat to the pitcher, who fell down behind the mound as he caught the ball for out No. 1. His teammates started yelling for him to go to second base.
They meant for him to throw the ball, but he walked over and stepped on the bag for out No. 2. The runner at first was confused as to who they were yelling at to go to second, so he went. He slid into the bag, knocking the pitcher down on top of him with the ball in his glove between the chests of the two players. That was out No. 3. In fact, it was an unassisted triple play. I told the coach I could not bunt. He never asked me to bunt again.
After that summer in Troy and with my father’s return from Vietnam, my family returned to the area. We lived in a trailer park in Smiths Station when we returned, but we lied about our address so that I could attend South Girard with my friends. That next summer, I played Dixie Boys baseball for the Cubs. In my fourth year, I won the batting title with an average of .484 and made the all-star team. It was the only time I ever made an all-star team. It was also the only time I led a league in hitting.
The next season, I was traded to the Dodgers and played a fifth season. With my birthday in July, I always had to play in leagues earlier than I should have. In that final year with Dixie Boys, they changed the deadline for birthdays and I got to play the extra year. I wish I could say something good happened that year, but the truth is it did not. I moved to right field and wound up getting bumped one night while attempting to catch a fly ball. The ball clipped the tip of my glove and hit me above the right eye. I had to have six stitches and the next night I was back at first base.
That pretty much sums up my baseball career. I was never one of the best, but I was not one of the worst either. Still, like everyone else, I had those good and bad moments. I enjoyed them all.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.