THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER MAKE GRUMPY WAX NOSTALGIC
“Beisbol been berry berry good to me.” Chico Esquela
Yes, Grumpy remembers those words from back in the days of early Saturday Night Live programming.
The memories are as rich and fluid as the day they were created. Baseball was the summer sport played by all of us, the be all and end all of all of our pastimes in summer, and the focus of our friendships and our activity. Here’s a list of a few memories of Grumpy’s: some personal reflections and memories from growing up in Galt, Ontario in the 50’s and 60’s.
We followed the Senior Inter County Terriers (Galt). Every Saturday night we’d ask our parents for 50 cents to attend the games, but our plans actually included a fence hop and a free admission. This involved a crawl along the fence of a lumber yard where a mean old dog “junkyard” guarded the premises.
Our technique was to create diversions, jump over the fence and hide in the cow barns until it became dark enough to slip through the shadows to our seats behind home plate.
We used the 50 cents to buy a bag of potato chips and a coke. Sometimes we’d venture down to that park to play on the “big” diamond. We also learned to smoke cigarettes high up in the rafters of the cow barn deep in left field. Menthol “COOLS” was our brand of choice.
Yes, we invented salt and vinegar chips.
We’d buy a bag of plain chips (couldn’t afford the fries), split the aluminum foil bag down the side and sprinkle the contents with liberal doses of vinegar and salt. Those who liked catsup smothered those crispy delights in their favorite condiment. We could have been millionaires with that invention!
Sometimes we’d go to the park early and stand in the outfield with the players during batting practice. We’d shag fly balls and, and having brought one of our old scuffed and tattered balls, we’d throw that one back in order to get a newer ball for the next week of our own play. We never got caught doing that old switch-a-roo! Grumpy thinks the players knew about our scam all along. After all, they didn’t have to run to the fence when the ball was hit over their heads. We did the grunt work.
We’d watch Roger Deweale hit deep home runs to left field (where there was no fence) and watch the ball disappear into the darkness behind the lights. That guy could pound the ball for miles. He was a giant of a man.
Then there was Larry Cunnigham’s short porch shots into the lumber yard along the right field line which was a mere 295 ft away. He was the first African American guy Grumpy ever saw.
I remember that a lot of NHL Hockey players played in the Inter County in the summer. One time as I sat on a cement ledge, Murray Oliver (Detroit Red Wings) bounced a ball between my legs, as the Grumps sat frozen worrying that he might take out my boys with an errant toss.
When Grumpy was older he watched as Jesse Orosco threw smoke as an eighteen year old import. He was an American who later tossed pitched a no hitter in the IC and pitched in the Majors into his 40’s. (New York Mets) He retired when he was 46 years old, one of the oldest players to still be playing in the modern age.
Orosco is one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in Major League games in four decades. He finished his career with an ERA of 3.16, and is the all-time record holder for games (by a pitcher).
At the time, of course, we just thought he was “way cool” for an eighteen year old.
Grumpy learned how to hit from another American Import, Nelly Cooper. He was a college player from North Carolina, whose job was to work for the Parks and Recreation Department, touring the Summer Programs, teaching baseball to kids.
His was the first southern accent Grumps ever heard. Grumpy claims to this day that he made him into a decent hitter –still bat, with no hitch or waggle, and hard and through level swing. For a little guy Grumpy had a great power stroke. Well that’s how Grumpy remembers it, anyway.
Nevertheless, Nelly would always have a chaw of “tabaccee” working in his mouth.
“Ya see son (Spit) you gotta (Spit) swing that there big old bat (Spit) nice and level like (Spit).”
Grumpy swears that Nelly could propel that juice a good country mile if he wanted to.
Sometimes we’d sit on the dugout roof and peer over the edge to observe our heroes. Imagine our shock when we’d catch the guys smoking on the bench or drinking beer after the game, farting and belching all the while. We learned some great cuss words and expressions from the players and managers we idolized. We couldn’t believe the tattered underwear some these guys wore.
Grumpy watched the career of Wray Upper, a Brooks Robinson type third baseman, as he starred in the league for over 20 years. We were astounded how fast he was on his feet, given the beer belly that hung over his belt.
We watched a 50+ year old pitcher called John Clark, who had so much junk, even though he threw in the 70 mph range. Ironically, the Phenom played baseballwith Billy Mc Houl who is the Grandson of one of the Inter County’s greatest pitchers, Spud Bush. After Spud retired we frequented his pizza shop down on Queen’s Square.
And, while we’re at it, how do you get the nickname “Spud”?
I remember that the walk home after the game was a daring adventure. We’d walk through the dark alleys behind the houses, stealing fruit from trees and munchies from the gardens.
We were more like the Little Rascals; a band of roving half pints up to endless shenanigans.
We’d ring doorbells and run like hell or we’d toss rocks at the great globe street lights and watch them smash into splinters. The city actually changed those globes to plastic because of those Saturday night raids by Grumpy’s friends and others. (Hey, Grumpy feel good about coming clean about that!)
Oh how we’d emulate our heroes in back yard games of whiffle ball, smacking “tators” over the cedar hedge –which, of course” was our Green Monster. Old Ernie Roberston would never throw those balls back.
And, that my friends, is but a few of a myriad of Grumpy’s baseball memories. Grumpy hasn’t even mentioned his playing days, the great sandlot games we organized or the recesses at school that were filled with games of “SCRUB”. Do you know how to play TIBBY or BLOCK (We called it BOK)?
All of these were baseball games we played to add spice to our day. We’d even use broken hockey sticks to bat stones we tossed to improve our batting eye.
Grumpy challenges you to post your memories here. What were your baseball experiences? What made you into a fan?
When Grumpy reflects upon these “dog days” of summer he truly and completely believes, “Beisbol been berry berry good to me.”
What about you?