Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Powder

I'm not much of an athlete. I have fairly good hand eye coordination. I can play a game like ping-pong or pool. I can even shoot foul shots or hit a baseball. In any game requiring movement in anything but a straight line I am hopelessly slow and inept.

My Dad always quietly encouraged me to participate in sports, I was always reluctant. The one good memory is when I was what is now called a tween. I was eleven or twelve, too young for Little League, anyway I couldn't make the try outs, so I played what was called Minor League baseball. I wasn't very good.

At tryouts I ended up on a second rate team sponsored by a local hardware store. They were a second tier sponsor. The team was one of the integrated teams and about two thirds of the players were Negroes as African-Americans were called back then.

The best player on our team was Benjy, I don't think I ever knew his last name. He was a wonder. He was younger than most of the kids on the team, including me, but he could out hit and out throw and out field everyone else. He was also a nice guy from a modest family.

As it happens our assigned practice field was a dusty diamond backing up to a little stream just behind Benjy's house. His Mother would come over her back fence and bring us lemonade and ice water. I never actually met his Father, but I knew who he was. Like my Dad he was always at work when we practiced after school. He was often in the stands when we played on the weekends. My Dad knew him somehow, possibly he worked at the Plant. Anyway my day always exchanged greetings with him out of earshot of us athletes.

Benjy had a younger brother who always hung around when we practiced. He would chase the numerous foul balls and generally followed his big brother around like a puppy. Benjy tried to teach him, except his little brother had a handicap, he was left handed. I was the only other player on the team who was left handed and had an appropriate glove.

One day after practice Benjy asked me if he could borrow my glove for his little brother, he said he would return it tomorrow for practice. I said "Sure, but I have another glove at my house I'd be happy to give him" since I had outgrown it. I asked "Could you come over to my house after practice and get it?". The three of us walked the six or eight blocks from the practice field to my house and after we had determined that the glove was suitable, my Mom gave us all Kool-aid and cookies.

Our games were usually on Saturday Afternoon, there would be several six inning games in a row. Before one of our Saturday afternoon games I went to Gillispe's Barber Shop to get a hair cut. My Dad was initiating me into the rites of manhood. "Pop" Gillispie (or Ernie or the other guy we called the 'new barber') cut my hair and added some Fitch's Hair Tonic. It slicked my hair back. It also had a distinctive odor. When I got to the game Benjy promptly dubbed me "Baby Powder", because he thought that's what it smelled like.

He and his friends called me that for the rest of the season, much to my embarrassment. If I'd stayed it might have become my "street" name, I might have even grown to like it.

The next summer we moved to Louisiana. I never saw Benjy or his brother after that. I heard Benjy became a big high school football and baseball star. I also heard blew out his knee in college. I hope he made out OK after that.

I never understood how I ended up on that particular team. My Dad always seemed to be very happy with that particular part of my life. He seemed particularly proud of the glove incident. Many years later I began to wonder if he arranged it on purpose but I never got around to asking him about it. I'm sorry I didn't.


mominem said...

I got this email;

Hi, I just came across your post about your early baseball days, which I enjoyed.

"Mominem" sounds right to me, but I'm from Texas.

In case you'd be interested in hearing some of my baseball story, you can read Looking Back At a Rocky Little League Start"

Good luck getting out of the trailer!

Bob Estes

Sophmom said...

Great story, darlin'. It warmed my little baseball lovin' heart. Thanks for sharing that.