Saturday, October 27, 2007

Almost Isn't ... But It Was, Barely ...

The pitcher released the ball. I made contact and saw the ball bouncing out to the shortstop. I took off running to first base. The shortstop bobbled the ball. Maybe I would make it to first base on an error. But that was not to be. The ball slammed into the first baseman’s glove just as I stepped on the base. The umpire called me out and rightfully so. Yes, I learned that day that in baseball, and perhaps in life, being close is not always good enough. I was fifteen years old at the time and was playing outfield with Beaumont Motor Company’s summer league team. We were city champions in 1951. This was a playoff game with a team from Houston. We lost 4 to 0.

The next time I was up to bat, the pitcher ran the count to three balls and two strikes. I had swung at none of those pitches. It was as though I was just standing there watching the pitcher work. Then came the next pitch. It was a fast ball. There was no time to think. It appeared to be a little low so I did not swing. What would the umpire call? He barked, “Take y’er base.” A walk is as good as a single even though I had done nothing but stand there. Anyway I was proud to be on first base.

I had played many baseball games and had reached first base numerous times. But this time, first base was special because the game was being played in Stuart Stadium out on Ave. A., in South Park. This stadium held a special place in my heart.

I was ten years old when I first sat in the stands at Stuart Stadium. My dad took me there to see the Ringling Brothers Circus. It was the first circus I ever saw and also the grandest I have ever seen. This was a spectacular three-ring production that I’ll always remember. My favorite vision that day was not the men and women on the flying trapeze although they were exciting. It was not the lion tamer with his daring adventures inside a cage with lions and tigers. No, the thing that impressed me most was when a small automobile came speeding into the middle of the center ring and stopped. The door opened and fifteen clowns came peeling out one at a time. My ten year old brain thought that was the most stupendous thing ever.

Later, when I was fourteen, my first job was at stadium selling “ICE COLD SODA WATER” at the Beaumont Exporters’ home games. I actually got to meet such baseball greats as Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDougald, Stan Musial, Roy Capanella, Jackie Robinson and Rogers Hornsby. I delivered cokes to them in the clubhouse when the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, or the Saint Louis Cardinals passed through town in pre-season playing exhibition games. I recall one game where the Dodgers beat the Exporters 22 to 2. Another time, I saw the Exporters beat the Yankees by a score of 4 to 1. McDougald played 3rd base for the Exporters during that game. Later, the Yankees recruited him to play second base for them which he did successfully for ten seasons.

Recently I was in Beaumont and visited the Stadium Shopping Center. I stood there looking at the home plate plaque that is embedded in the sidewalk. I thought of all those lions, clowns, cokes, baseball players … but most of all I was happy that I did not strike out that day at Stuart Stadium with the count at three balls and two strikes.

That last pitch was close but not close enough …

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise


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