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  • Texas | Columns | "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"

    The Boys of Summer

    by Frances Giles

    Baseball was the best sport ever invented, in my opinion. I dearly loved watching and playing as a child. Now, with player, club and league scandals, strikes and other nonsense which have derailed the fun of following the major leagues for me, if I watch a game at all it's the minor league teams, or maybe college teams, on television, and I've gone to live games with friends a couple of times to watch the Round Rock Express play at home.

    In our neighborhood we played baseball for around 2 1/2 or 3 seasons. In a semi tropical climate you can do that, start when it's warm enough outside to require only a light jacket, mid February and end the season in late, late October, same yards, same jacket, unless you happened to have had a growth spurt over the summer.

    I was one of a few girls in our area who was of a similar age as the boys, playing age, I mean, and though they're long gone, I had some decent skills. I was short and had a low center of gravity, and was, in my mind, a power hitter and pretty fast runner. Then there was my fantastic throwing arm just meant for playing the outfield. Most importantly, I had my own glove and little junior sized bat. Now that I think on it, all of my attributes were superior...in my own mind. That sweet little bat was a deep honey bronze color and cost way under 2 bucks at S&H Kress, and my glove was a child sized, thick, puffy leather mitt which made catching anything larger than a dime store red rubber ball with it a real trick. I have no idea where it came from, but it matched that of my brother Butch, so I was happy with what amounted to a level playing field.

    Beaumont had long had different farm teams which groomed players for the big league, and Stuart Stadium was only 3 blocks from our house on Emile Street. In the 1957 season, our neighborhood was drawn into the fringes of the big time, by front yard and city park standards, when the new team came to town early in the year. Two of the players rented a room from our next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Theall, and we kids were over the moon. They were two extremely polite young men in their early or mid twenties and went out of their way to spend time informally coaching us. Harry was a tall, slender blonde from Los Angeles and Joe was a native of Bloomfield, NJ, a “nice Italian boy”, per the Moms. I think Joe was a left fielder, because long after they had departed I always insisted on playing that position. Harry might have pitched some, but I believe he played another position which escapes me. Hey, I'm old. The velcro upstairs has gotten more than a bit worn.

    For some reason, maybe because we lived right next door and ate, slept and played baseball, and maybe because our Dad wasn't living with us that year, the guys took a special interest in Butch and me. They took us to movies on Saturday afternoons and ate supper with us on occasion, and sometimes our mother loaned them her car to go on errands for themselves and, of course, to get us downtown and back on movie days. We had an open free pass to all home games and we did occasionally go to them. I started a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of the team's exploits with the main focus on Harry and Joe, of course. We weren't allowed to go knock on the Theall's back door and ask for them because they played quite a few night games and sometimes slept late the next day, and we were also bound by manners, in other words, don't bother the grownups. Never mind, we still had lots of quality time with them. They would step out on the front porch and move over to the playing field of the day, our yard combined with the Theall's to make a large enough, albeit skinny, diamond, and occasionally one other, and offer hints. I'd become agonizingly shy and stop playing to go sit on the bottom step of our porch until they prodded and encouraged me to get back in the game. Harry was the more shy of the pair and Joe joked and played around a good deal more with all of us, but they were both patient and kind. It was a memorable season, from my perspective.

    In the Fall of the year we were planning for our dual birthday party, usually combined because we had birthdays close together. Butch's fell in mid September, and exactly a month later, mine arrived. The plan was to have some of the neighbor kids over for cake, punch and playing, whatever that meant to us at that age. I was turning 8 and Butch had turned 9 the month before. It went without saying that Harry and Joe were invited. We walked home from school and Mama met us inside the house between the living room and dining room, right under the arch. It might have been a Wednesday afternoon because she only worked half days on that day, and she was getting things ready for the party. We started to dash next door to remind the guys about the party when Mama stopped us, knelt down in front of us and said Joe and Harry weren't going to be at the party. She told us they had gone back home, that the baseball season was over and they didn't want to upset us by having to tell us goodbye on party day. It was meant kindly, I'm sure, by whomever made the decision, but I can still remember the ache in the back of my throat. I don't remember the party, though.

    © Frances Giles
    "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions" August 14, 2013 Column
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