Speaking of Toys in the Attic

 

Our Hearts Connected Through the Joy of Baseball.

 

How long has it been since you’ve smelled the leather of a really old baseball glove? First dry? Then, with lubricating oil applied?

Do you remember how it felt to take a soft leather glove, or hard leather one too, if you were ever lucky enough to be breaking in a new glove, and, just to feel better about the formation or preservation of a glove “pocket,” you stuck an old baseball in it and then fastened it shut overnight with the aid of some very large rubber bands – or even string?

Those were the days, my friend.

Mix in the sandlot textures of the following day. You take that pampered baby glove and ball out to the sandlot, awaiting the inevitable summer morning assembly of players who will soon come clattering through their front screen door homes to join you on Eagle Field – or wherever it was you happened to play.

Not a mental care in the world stirred to spoil the ascending light and feel of an early June day in the Houston East End. Standing on the sandlot turf, banging around the weathered soil in the naked home plate area, picking up the sweet scent of freshly cut grass from the twilight hours of the night before, there are no thoughts about income taxes, the price of gasoline, the competitive industries of the Chinese government, the threat of terrorism, or the dangers of  stranger predation.

We were just were there. Prepped only for joy in non intellectual terms. We were baseballers. All day baseballers. Just make room for the game and watch us go at it.

 

Speaking of Toys in the Attic ...

 

The stuff of those days included our personal items, like old gloves, an occasional baseball board or pinball game, and maybe even a baseball book or two. We weren’t exactly library hounds in those days, but we were literate – and we saw reading as something beyond an activity forced upon us by schools. Reading could take us to worlds that were otherwise beyond our reach. And that little book in the photo at left is just such an example. “Teenage Baseball Stories” was one of the first books I ever owned about baseball. What’s pictured here is the actual book That I’ve had since I was very young – along side an exact copy of the pinball baseball game I used to play in my room during the awful “heat of the day” polio threat hours during which we were kept back from playing ball outside in the summer of 1950. The featured glove in the photo is also a latter-day flea market find, but a pretty accurate version of the same glove that Dad gave me to use on the sandlot a few thousand summers ago.

Sadly, the original glove got discarded years ago. Dad gave. And Dad took away. He seemed to have a compulsive need to throw away or give away anything that was not currently in use by the family. So, after I got a little job and earned enough money to buy a new Rawlings Playmaker, the old glove that resembled the one in our picture here just quietly disappeared.

Back then, the preservation of these old artifacts wasn’t all that important to me either. In fact, all I had, or didn’t have, was extraneous to the joy of the sandlot and my comfortable fit into the  kid culture that thrived in Houston, and all over America, I presume, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

We sometimes had our differences, and we sometimes duked it out over bad blood issues, but, other than the time our kids from Japonica-Myrtle got into a brief pipe gun war with the Kernel Street kids over control of Eagle Field, we most often settled things in less threatening ways and moved on. My dad put a fast end to the pipe gun war, making us work things out through a game of baseball, which we easily won.

There was just something more tactile and definite about the way we lived in the East End of Houston back in the years that immediately followed World War II. For one thing, many of our fathers were coming back from the second great war and getting started on their own treks into the “American Way of Life.”

Baseball was still America’s Pastime back then too. The NFL would need television to put it on the sports map – and hardly anyone we knew had ever heard anything about the NBA. That was a game for girls shooting two-handed push-em-up or underhand-lob shots.

Segregation and bigotry still ruled Houston in those post WWII days, but even that level of mandated ignorance had little power over the modeling influence that the new back major leaguers were building in the minds of even some of us southern white kids. My big league all star team from that era included: Robin Roberts (R) and Warren Spahn (L); Roy Campanella, c; Stan Musial, 1b; Jackie Robinson, 2b; George Kell, 3b; Phil Rizzuto, ss; Ted Williams, lf; Duke Snider, cf; and Ralph Kiner, rf. – Ralph was no right fielder, but I had to put him somewhere. The “Pirate Prince of Punch”  or the “Bucco Baron of Blast” was too good for his era to leave out.

Bob Boyd would become the first black athlete to integrate a Houston sports team when he joined the Houston Buffs in May 1954. From that active point forward, Houston would be on its way to shedding away the kinds of earlier stupidity, but these changes would also signal the start of organized kid sports programs and movement toward a culture in which both parents worked and single mom families became common.

The days of summer ease and kid life on the sandlot were drawing to a close. They slipped through our fingers quietly, before we even saw it coming and read the implications for lost spontaneity to the generations that came after us. Sometime, by the late 1950s in some places and by the early 1960s in others, the sandlot slipped silently away as an American institution.

Too bad. Their loss is greater than those who have missed the sandlot will ever imagine. All we have left are our ancient memories and a few toys in the attic that our parents could not find in time to discard.

 

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One Response to “Speaking of Toys in the Attic”

  1. tom murrah Says:

    Thanks again for a wonderful piece of writing. I did check to see
    several things in our home today….yes, the baseball card box
    I have looks incredibly similar to the one pictured, but it is a Bowman’s
    box. The colors and artwork are almost identical. And, although
    I couldn’t put my fingers on a copy of “Teen-age Baseball Stories,”
    I did find most of the old Chip Hilton series by Clair Bee and a copy
    of Bill Stern’s Favorite Baseball Stories. Goodness gracious.

    When do we begin to receive coaching for our work on
    Houston’s Baseball History 1861-1961 ?

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