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Memories From The Past

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Baseball and Bill

Kenny Stallard

     Memories can be brought to mind by the simplest thing.  The other day, while going to visit a friend in Lynn Garden I had the opportunity to drive past Lynn Garden Elementary, now John F. Kennedy Elementary.  As I rounded the corner at Delwood (once Forrest St.) and Lawrence Street, on seeing the nicely fenced and manicured playground, I thought about how different this looked back in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

     This was our baseball field, rutted, red clay.  We had no fancy drags and rakes found to tend today’s ball fields for the organized leagues.  Our play was like our ball field, totally unorganized but more fun that most kids have today.

     If a rut was too deep, we might kick a little dirt into it.  Home plate, if we could find one, was a scrap of flat plank.  Our bases were rags, bags or rocks, whatever we could find.  We had no pitcher’s mound or even a pitchers rubber.  No base lines, foul lines or foul poles.

     Right field was short because of the large oaks growing at the edge of bare ground about 25 yards past first base.  No outfield fence, the ground just sloped into a low sunken are that always seemed to have water standing.

     Centerfield was just a little longer.  Again the oaks came into play and the ground sloped upward, covered with rocky scree.  Weeds abounded as you went deeper into center field.

     Left field sloped up from the base path and went onto the basketball court, about 25 yards away.  This was the only area of the outfield that was flat.

     We batted with any bat that showed up.  No fancy ball and bat bags with metal bats, batter’s gloves, rosin bags and batter’s helmets.  When someone  had a baseball with the cover intact, we thought we were in heaven.  We would play with whatever ball we could get.  When the cover came off, we would wrap it with black cloth electrician’s tape.  Plastic electrician’s tape was a few years away.

     The Bill in the title refers to Bill Dale.  Bill graduated from Sullivan High School in 1952 and later was a sports writer for the Kingsport Times-News.  What makes playing baseball with Bill so memorable, is that Bill was crippled.  No one thought about it at the time, but Bill was probably a victim of polio.

     Bill would play first base and we all tried to make our throws accurate.  Bill would prop himself up on one crutch, with a glove on his free hand.  He could catch the ball and quickly tuck the glove under his arm, pulling the ball free if he needed to make a throw.

     Bill batted from the right side of the plate, propping himself on his left crutch, swing the bat with his right hand.  Bill surprised anyone that had not played ball with him before at the distance and force he could hit a baseball.  Great strength had been developed in his arms and hands over his young life from the use of his crutches. A substitute runner was always allowed for Bill, standing of to the left side of home plate, ready to run for Bill would hit the ball.  No one ever balked at choosing Bill when choosing up sides.

     Bill has passed away, but the memories still linger.  RIP Bill.

 

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