The Last Pecan Park Eagle

Japonica Park in Houston
Former Home of The Pecan Park Eagles
1947-1952

It was late August of 1954. Most of us who played ball for years in the city-owned park across the street from our house as The Pecan Park Eagles sandlot club were in high school by this time. A few of us still played organized kid baseball, but none of us any longer haunted the old ground we once called Eagle Field during our halcyon year of 1950. It had returned to being “the lot” – the ordinary place where Japonica and Myrtle Streets converged near the far western boundaries of Pecan Park on Houston’s southeast side – just off Griggs Road – to the left as you drive south, even now, on the Gulf Freeway, on the start of any drive to Galveston.

It was near twilight as I came flying out the front screen door of our house for a one-step leap off our tiny concrete slab front porch onto the grass on my celebratory way to the family wheels, a 1951 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 – and the ignition key already jangling in my anxious-to-roll right hand. I did have to chip in a dollar’s worth of gas to get Dad’s permission to use the family wheels. After all, regular gas had risen to something like 26.9 cents per gallon over the summer months.

The big occasion – I had a dreamy date for the local CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) back-to-school “sock hop,” and I was both wired and inspired by my thoughts of the little lady I was about to pick up as my companion for the evening.

As I reached the driver’s side door handle (remember, we had no remotes in those days), I heard a familiar voice calling out to me from the other side of the yard.

“Hey, Billy,” the voice cried out. “Have you got time for a few flies and rollers before it gets dark?”

No question who it was. It was a fellow I came to think of over time as The Last Pecan Park Eagle.

I’ll call him “Smiley” here because that’s how I thought of him. He was a kid my age, but with a lot more native ability to run, catch, steal bases, hit for average, and hit for power. He just couldn’t keep his mind in the game for situations that required you to think ahead or adjust quickly. He didn’t communicate a lot of what he had felt clearly to all, but you would have to be thick as a tree stump to not get how much he loved baseball, and wanted to be one of The Pecan Park Eagles.

Smiley’s kind were once known as “slow learners” before the special needs programs began to sweep through our schools in the 1960s, and actually improve the learning curve. He got along well with his Eagle teammates, but he apparently had no free range parental permission to roam Pecan Park with the rest of us when we weren’t on the diamond.

The contact I had with Smiley in the late summer of 1954 was the last time we ever saw each other face-to-face. I recently learned that he had finished school at some point, and spent the rest of his health-shortened life working in grocery store produce here in Houston. He died early from undisclosed health problems, around the age of 50.

Somehow, even at age 16 for each of us, I “got” what was going on with Smiley from his question back on that summer afternoon in 1954. The rest of us Eagles had changed; moved on. Smiley had not. He was still waiting on the next game at Eagle Field across the street.

“Can’t make it tonight, Smiley,” I said, with a key-jangling wave of the right hand. “Got some place to be. See you later.”

Later never came. The kid in the white tee shirt and blue jeans I looked back and saw in the rear view window of my car as I drove away was walking his barefoot self home. He was banging the business end of his bat on the sidewalk and carefully protecting the ball in the pocket of his ancient five-finger Wilson glove as he moved quietly away. We would never see each other again in a speaking situation. And Smiley would never again come by to try and stir up a game of flies and rollers.

By this time that night, “Sh Boom” by The Crewcuts was blasting away on the car radio. It was not loud enough to snuff out the conclusion that has grown in my mind over the nearly 64 years that have passed since that 1954 brief contact with Smiley.

He truly was – the Last Pecan Park Eagle.

Thank you, old friend, for all the spirit and hope you brought to the game of baseball that we Eagles played. Wish I had possessed the insight that day in 1954 you dropped by for one more practice session to thank you for your contributions, but I didn’t. Some of us are a little slow in learning how to express appreciation.

So here it is – a little late:

Long live the memory of anonymous you,

  …. the Last Pecan Park Eagle!

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

 

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13 Responses to “The Last Pecan Park Eagle”

  1. Patrick Callahan '56 Says:

    BILL: – you’re going to have to really “hustle” to top this piece in 2018 …but you’ve got eight months to work on it!

  2. Larry Dierker Says:

    Agreed.

  3. Mark W. Says:

    This isn’t Facebook, but “Thumbs Up”.

  4. Tom Hunter Says:

    I wondered what prompted your personal remembrance of things past like Proust’s episode of the madeleine. Was it something that just came to you or a haunting memory you have carried around for years.

    I enjoyed the poignant detail of “Smiley” and that day in late August of 1954, but I must confess that the title of this piece startled me. I thought you were announcing the last installment of The Pecan Park Eagle.

    It was one of your best, Bill.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      I guess you could say it has haunted me for most of the past 64 years that I’ve never written about it until now, but it hasn’t exactly waited on taking its turn as an ongoing life instruction on the importance of expressing to others what they have meant to us.

      Things we recall from a car’s rear view mirror tend to be loaded with the Proustian Madeleine of Life’s Special Lesson Moments. – Good old Proust. He had a beautiful mind for mindfulness.

      Oh, yes, thanks to you – and all who have written here. Your positive feedback is very much appreciated.

  5. gregclucas Says:

    Loved this memory.

  6. John Watkins Says:

    Wonderful piece, Bill. It prompted a few memories of my own –some great ball games with made-up rules on vacant lots in the little oil field town west of Fort Worth where I spent my grade school years.

  7. Jim Farge Says:

    Yes, a fine piece of writing, Bill. Somebody who knows how (I’m social media illiterate) should put it to a wider audience (YouTube???)

  8. strider49 Says:

    I agree that Proust deserves to be mentioned in your company. However, like Tom, I was alarmed by the title of your piece. Should you decide to stop, please declare your intent two years in advance.

  9. clint ellison Says:

    Ahhh,…. How I fondly remember “Flies and Rollers” in a group of guys of all ages and abilities gathered in the big field across from the end of our neighborhood. Some were barefoot, some were shirtless, all had gloves of varying degrees of respectability. The batter standing a hundred feet away would crack the dirty and scuffed ball toward the group and the competition would commence. A caught fly ball was three points. A roller wasone point. First guy to reach nine won. It seemed like such a simple game at the age of twelve, but i’d give anything to play it again now. Thanks for a great article.

  10. shinerbock80 Says:

    Nicely done, Bill.

  11. don matlosz Says:

    article Billy. I grew up in Hillside, NJ. After school and during the summer months the playground was my second home. Stick ball,
    softball and a game called two a cat were the games of choice. Stick ball only required another kid a wall, some chalk, a broom stick and a pink high bouncer. I played stick ball from the age of 9 to 17 On weekends we had to climb the fence to get to our field of dreams. Playing stick ball honed my skills as a batter and a pitcher. Fifty years later the transfer of skill sets in stick ball led me to become a tennis player. I teach at Fresno State and after school the tennis courts are my second home. On weekends I now have to climb the fence at FSU to get to my court of dreams. Playgrounds last forever

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