Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Play Ball!

With baseball season starting this week, I’ll post a picture of my 1975 Little League team, the Ashland Phillies.

Back in the 90s, I wrote a pretty solid piece about my Little League days for Leisure Suit webzine. I also wrote a more comprehensive article on a passage from that piece regarding our coach, Barry, getting a line shot in the balls for the NYPress. (Let me know if you’d like PDF copies of either.)

I’d like to write a short paragraph about each player in order, and other things I can see in this decrepit-looking picture. It appeared only two years ago in the local paper back home, in one of those “Remember When” sections, but the actual photo in the paper pretty much was this old-looking. Then again, 1975 was 31 years ago, so I better wrap my mind around pictures like this being from 1945 to my 1975 mind -- you know, '45, when we beat Hitler?

Gene Fertig: a great pitcher, had a hell of an arm. The kind of kid who was very emotional, too, cried and kicked over shit in the dug out when he was taken out of the game. This stuff was kind of embarrassing in one sense, but there was no doubting how much the kid cared about the game.

Jim Stavinski: Jimbo. A small-but-tough guy, the catcher. Had buck teeth. I remember him getting absolutely wiped out by much larger guys while he was guarding home plate, and he always got up afterwards.

Brian Chikotas: Our shortstop, another small kid, but a good athlete. We called him Chico, because of his last name and the popular TV show Chico and the Man. He looks Asian, and his name sounds vaguely Hispanic, but I don't know what he was ethnically.

Bob Hepler: He wasn’t too coordinated and got stuck in right field a lot. Like most kids who weren’t that good, Bob was very smart, probably a genius. It was always good to have kids like this on the team – they were like kid philosophers, never getting too hung up on the game itself, always keeping an eye on reality.

George Bilder: The only kid on the team from my hometown and whom I still know now. George played left field and was pretty good at it. In this picture, he bears a startling resemblance to the Timmy Lupus character from the original Bad News Bears. Please note how he’s separated himself ever so slightly from the rest of team – even back then, he’d had enough.

Mark Kaufman: For the life of me, I can’t remember a thing about this kid! He looks like a normal kid, doesn’t he?

Rodney Shivelhood: The team bad boy. Rodney was a troubled youth. He “played” right field, which just as often meant him sitting out there with his shoes off, tossing his glove in the air and catching it. He just didn’t seem to give a shit about anything. I’d be curious to see how he’s doing now, because he was also in trouble in high school, and I lost track of him after that.

Me: Do I look obese in that uniform? Granted, I look a little chunky, but I recall my mother having to sew in an extra piece of elastic on those pants because they were too small, and it was the “biggest” pants they could find. I considered myself a fat kid (until the age of 14, when I became extremely thin), but when I see pictures like this, I don’t know. But I played first base – a great fielder and an average hitter.

John Reilly: Another very smart kid who wasn’t that good a player. John liked The Beatles as much as I did, and I remember discussing the Red and Blue greatest hits albums with him all the time.

Coach Jim Stavinski: Jimbo’s Dad – a pretty good guy. Most likely held down some type of factory job. In this picture, he sort of looks like a hippie from an R. Crumb cartoon – one of those guys leaning back in an easy chair with a giant joint while a wide-bottomed hippie chick gives him fellatio. Of course, this didn’t occur to me back then!

George Charlock: Our resident power hitter and centerfielder. He could really kill the ball. I look at this picture now, and he looks so frail, but with a huge head. Make no mistake, George was a powerful kid. He’d go on to letter in a few sports in high school.

Bill Kaufman: I can’t remember where he played, but he was a gangly kid with a friendly face. I still remember Coach Barry letting him try a pinch of his Elephant Butts chewing tobacco at one of our practices, and Bill projectile vomiting against a tree.

Pat Reilly: Again, for the life of me, I don’t remember a thing about this kid. I’d gather that like the other Kaufman, he was a brother of the other same-surnamed player on the team. But I’m just blanking here.

Manager Barry Clews: note the Elephant Butts bulge in Barry’s cheek. Barry was, most likely still is, a redneck, and I mean that as a compliment. Factory worker, had a few sons of his own, and he got into coaching to be ready for when they were old enough to play. Famous for taking a screaming line shot in the balls (off George Charlock’s bat) in batting practice one day, nearly shitting his pants, collapsing on the mound, and having to be taken away by ambulance. Still managed to show up to watch us play later that afternoon. A tough guy, and a good coach.

The Clubhouse: note the edifice behind us. This was the clubhouse behind home plate – the field was only a few yards to the right in the picture. But the clubhouse was where all the equipment (bases, catcher’s gear, line chalk, rakes, etc.) was stored on the first floor, with a wooden announcer’s booth on the second. My fondest memories of Little League baseball are of taking batting practice before games, the announcer turning an AM radio to a Top 40 station, and letting it play over the rickety PA system. Had many fine swings and catches to the tune of McCartney, ELO, Queen, Elton John, Bad Company, Leo Sayer, The Bee Gees, etc. I hope that relaxed sense of coolness still prevails today at all Little League pre-games.

The Terrain: the geography behind us looks like we’re playing in a fucking desert. This was rural Pennsylvania, coal region, and the Little League fields were simply dug from asection of woods at the top of Ashland, which is situated on one big hill (about five miles from Centralia, PA). There were two fields, for Little League and Farm teams, and on the other side, a small pond before a large patch of woods. I remember catching tadpoles in that pond before or after games. With the fields, there was simply a small set of bleachers set up on the right field line, a small concession stand selling fried food, candy and soda, and that was about it

Every now and then when I’m back home, I’ll take a drive up by the Little League field, which is still there, and maybe slightly upgraded with an electronic scoreboard and such, but it seems virtually unchanged. And the real shock to me is how small it looks now – unbelievable that we’d once stand behind home plate and think the centerfield fence was impossibly far away.

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