Posts Tagged ‘The Last Pecan Park Eagle’

The Last Pecan Park Eagle

April 11, 2018

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