Boys of Summer, Little League Baseball – Chapter #2 The Second Year by Charles Hall
As I continue on with Chapter 2 of Little League Baseball, I’m trying to explain what it was like from my point of view … inside of me. And I feel that most of my friends felt almost exactly the same way I did. Some could make it to the “A” Team on natural talent. Some (like me) had to work harder. But we all felt a real sense of “team”!! That meant that you became as good as you could be, and played as hard as you could for your teammates. I emphasize how important it was to all of us. I can think of very few “funny” stories, but it was the most fun time of my entire life.
First, I had to make the “A” team and I knew I was going to have to work very hard during the off season to make the Mac’s as an 11 year old (uniforms, fenced field, bleachers, friends .. it all mattered). I knew my best shot was pitching, but I really wanted to play shortstop too. So my Dad and I got in our backyard on Illinois St. and measured my “workout area”. It was great. Home plate in Little League was 40’ 6” to the mound, and we had just a little over that distance from our den to our side fence. AND, like most backyard fences in Midland, ours was made of cinder blocks. Big rough cement blocks about (guessing here) 16” wide by about 8” high – a perfect strike zone. I picked out one block about 1/3 of the way up the fence, drew the line for my pitching rubber back near our den, and went to work.
I started throwing fastballs (not so fast though), and throwing, and throwing … on and on. On each pitch, I concentrated on the one cinder block, aiming and concentrating. (I should note that in 1969 when my parents moved to Florida, that one cinder block was totally discolored compared to its neighbors! Not sure how many baseballs I went through, but at the huge price of $.99 each, I’m sure they spent a fortune on me.) Every day for hours, throwing and throwing. Soon, I could hit that one cinder block almost every time. Then I started aiming at a particular corner, and got where I could hit the exact spot where I aimed. So I started mixing in fielding to change up the routine. I would throw and then rush forward to field the grounder coming back at me (like Eric taught me, glove low to the ground, then come up to field the ball and ready to throw), and fire at the cinder block from where ever I happened to field the ball. Soon, I was much more sure of myself both throwing and fielding.
So I started to practice with the curveball. Same routine of making each pitch count, and mixing in fielding and throwing. I got more confident with the curve, and soon could hit the cinder block almost every time, but I couldn’t always hit a particular corner. That was going to take another year or so. And I think I could throw a lot harder on my fastball. At least that’s what my Dad told me, but he may have just been being nice. I’m sure I bugged all my friends in the neighborhood to play catch constantly. Remember, it was “winter” in Midland and not really baseball season. I should name the friends I can remember: John Moore, Dennis “Wemus” Grubb, Randy Hill, Sammy Squyres, Danny Rust, Kenny and Donny Neal, Eddie Hayes. I know I would get together with John McElligott or Bob Stanley often, but would have to arrange rides to do so. One vivid memory I have is when Bob Stanley and I were playing catch in my backyard, and decided to do a little batting practice. Inexplicably, we decided to use a golf ball to see if I could hit it over the VERY tall Fire Station that was just across the alley behind my house. Really dumb! I didn’t get under the ball enough and hit a line shot (golf balls go much, much further than baseballs) right at the huge plate glass windows near the top of the Fire Station. There was about a 2 inch reinforcing beam about every 10 feet running vertically. Amazingly, I hit the tiny beam!! And not the expensive window! Bob and I headed inside immediately. LOL Days later I fessed up to the firemen, since I really looked up to them, and they often invited me over to play ping pong with them (they practiced all the time, and I’m sure it really bugged them that they could never beat the little 11 year old kid who lived across the alley). They were really nice about it, and didn’t even tell my parents. Strange I guess, but I never wanted to be a fireman growing up. And I currently serve on the Tierra Linda Volunteer Fire Department. I no longer play ping pong, though. Or baseball.
I think I had actually grown some, was stronger, could throw harder, and I was eager for the spring try outs to finally get here. The field we played on no longer seemed enormous, and I could make the throws much better. My fielding had definitely improved, and I quickly won the starting shortstop position, my proudest moment. You see following Eric Moore and Sammy Flournoy at shortstop for the Mac’s would be like a major league baseball player following Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in center field for the New York Yankees. No way to live up to that, just do your best. I was going to be holding down the left side of the infield next to Scott Rogers. We did this for the next 2 years, and between us could cover a lot of ground. I always admired Scott for his talent and for the kind of person he was.
I also became one of our 3 starting pitchers, along with John Moore and Ernie Hansen. Ernie was strictly a flame throwing, straight fastball pitcher. And you never knew exactly where it was going (and neither did he), which made it really interesting in batting practice. Ernie was careful not to hit us, his teammates, but the rest of the league came to the plate ready to duck when need be. We loved it. He struck out a ton of opposing batters, but when they did get their bat in front of the ball it usually came to us infielders with some speed on it. He and I made a good change of pace, and on the rare occasions we both pitched in the same game the opposition had a hard time adjusting to the difference in speed and control. (More on Ernie next year.) I think catcher John McElligott loved it, he tried to get us to use the entire plate – which is hard to handle for a batter at that age. I quickly learned to trust John and just hit his glove wherever he positioned it. I can remember being upset with myself when he had to move his glove an inch or so to catch one of my pitches. It would still be a strike, but I didn’t want to disappoint him. My curve was pretty effective, but still needed to be better. I managed to go 3 wins and 2 losses that year, and really only got to pitch in that many games because John Moore left for Europe for a long vacation with his family about half way through the season.
John Moore, our star pitcher and knuckleballer supreme!! John ended up being one of my best and closest friends for life. Even now it is extremely hard for me to write about him. I was on my way to Austin from Kerrville to be with him when he passed away in 2017 after a tough battle with cancer, his loving wife Prissy by his side. I know John McElligott can back me up on this, because John Moore had about the best knuckleball you’ve ever seen. In batting practice, I found I might as well close my eyes and swing, because that ball was bouncing and moving all over the place. He tried to teach me to throw it (and I tried to teach him my curve), but it didn’t work for me. John just had that knack. He went on to be a 3 sport star (football, basketball, baseball) at Lee High School. He actually averaged 43 (yes forty three) yard a punt as a Senior in High School. He taught me how to punt and I could make it look a little bit like his punt ….. but mine only went half as far. I can still see John’s last at bat in Little League, a booming home run to left field. I knew we were going to miss his bat and his pitching in our lineup. He made it up to me a bit by bringing me back a present from Europe, a toy motorized car. Pretty cool!!
We had some good players on our team who were playing their last season (Bobby Smith, Troy Roberts, Bruce McElligott, John Moore, Jerry Marshall). The Western League had a lot of really good players (Jimmy Adams was great) and I didn’t come close to making the All Star team – so I made that a goal for the next year, our final season.