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DO YOU REMEMBER..............Spitballs & Tobacco Juice
8/23/05 By Jay Brady
This past weekend it was my pleasure to return to Central Nebraska, spending a couple of days strolling down memory lane between Farwell and St. Paul, reminiscing about town team baseball during the early and mid 1900s. An invitation from Farwell native, Randy Lukasiewicz, to be speaker for the Saturday afternoon program was a great honor and opened the door to this step back in time. It's a bit ironic that the first Do You Remember column I wrote back in 1997 was about town team baseball. Little did I know that article would lead to a regular published column and a book which has now sold over 5,000 copies.
The Farwell Athletic Club was initiated in grand style with enlarged photos of town team players and high school athletes dating back from around 1910 up until mid century. Gloves, bats, balls, wool uniforms and a catcher's mask and shin guards were all on display. It was a time never to be forgotten by the players, families and fans of town team baseball, and they came from far and near to attend the festivities and recall those long ago magic moments. Almost every community fielded a team and some of these athletes were not only solid country ballplayers, but had the talent to make the big leagues if they'd had the opportunity presented today's youth. These hardened fellows, many of them Vets of two World Wars, were unpaid, but played simply for their love of the game. Sportsmanship was a main criteria, although each game was a life or death battle to the final inning. Batting and Earned Run Averages where seldom kept, and a pitch count was an unheard of statistic.
A pitcher was expected to go nine innings or more, and they did almost every time. Home runs weren't all that common, but line drive hitters were well known and feared. The basic fundamentals of the game were taught every youngster from the time he was big enough to hold a ball and put on a glove. Those tiny leather mitts did little to soften the sting of a hard hit liner, but those tobacco chewing legends never wavered in making the play and recording an out. How they would laugh at the equipment used today. They would shake their heads in disbelief and shame at the salaries paid modern pro players. Some, with only mediocre ability, earn more than the President of the United States. The stars make that much every month.
Unless a man couldn't walk or move his arms, he wouldn't miss a game. Deep gashes caused by flying spikes were quickly patched between innings and the player never missed a pitch. Sore arms, hamstring and other muscle pulls were just inconveniences put up with until they finally healed. Many a pitcher was prone to doctor a ball with a load of spit or tobacco juice to make it dance away from his nemesis, the batter. That same batter had never heard of a batting helmet, and had to always be alert for the high, inside hard one aimed squarely at his head. It was the pitcher's way of saying don't get too comfortable at home plate when I'm on the mound.
Umpires were well schooled, but poorly paid local chaps who donated their time just to be part of the game and make it possible for it to be played. Arguments were short lived and fights on the field were not common, but it wasn't at all unusual for some of the boys to square off behind the grandstand after a game. Speaking of grandstands, they were packed for every game and overflowed when two noted rivals collided. Cars lined the fence rows behind the dugouts and all the way to the outfield fences, and horns honked with every hit and run scored. Parents, wives and children of the combatants never missed a game, and a little rain or a tornado threat wasn't enough to stop the action.
This was baseball, the way it was meant to be played. Not many wives and Mamas were all that excited when their husbands and sons thought chewing tobacco was a necessary symbol of belonging, but a chaw of Skoal was available from many players. A few rookies, wanting to impress the others, tried hiding a bottle of John Barleycorn in his hip pocket, but that sign of manhood was laid aside the first time they forgot it was there and tried sliding into a base. A few unfortunates were scarred for life.
A trip through the St. Paul Baseball Museum was also a must. This fantastic display on Main Street was created to honor local Hall Of Famer, Grover Cleveland Alexander, but has grown to cover all Nebraskans who played in the Big Leagues, and the list is awe inspiring. Names like Richie Ashburn, Bob Cerv, Bob Gibson, Hoot Gibson, Bobby Shantz, Dick Stuart, Wade Boggs and Darrell Johnson are just a few of the Nebraskaland natives on display. Every name, every game and almost every pitch is brought back in focus for fans of America's favorite pastime, and it doesn't take long before someone asks "Do You Remember?"
October 5, 2005
A couple weeks before I showed off my collection of Farwell baseball photos and stories, I left them on exhibit at the Matlyn Retirement Center in St. Paul. As part of the event, I was asked to "do" a program. This would be a first for me and I decided to go for it and "just do it." I shared whatever story and information I knew and, suprisingly and very gratefully, I received wonderful stories in return. Only former neighbor,Earl Kaiser, would remember the fact that former Farwell outstanding player, Howard Waltman, didn't have a straight finder on his hand. He was a catcher and played for 40 years. His son, Lou, confirmed the story.
Following is a wonderful article by Janice Gilmore that needs to be read, re-read, passed on and implemented. It is my belief that we ALL HAVE STORIES that are worth telling and that we are all old, some are just a little bit older that others. We cannot forget the fact that the young NEED the older folks and as much as the older folks need the younger folks also. Go to ARCHIVES for more pictures and stories.
Published October 4, 2005
Janice Gilmore: Elderly have stories to tell
BY JANICE GILMORE
It is always a delight to see people treating nursing home residents with great dignity. Because of physical or mental needs, most need skilled care their families can't provide.
When visiting a nursing home, it would be so easy to ignore the little man in the wheelchair who looks into space, seemingly not aware of anything. The older lady wandering the halls talking to herself. Or the elderly men and women sitting around and quietly talking.
But those of us wise enough to look into the eyes of the elderly who are now so needy can see a different story.
The little, gray-haired lady, whose hands are gnarled and legs don't function as they used to, has a story in her heart. Her eyes may tell you:
One day I waltzed with my husband into the wee hours of the night. The moonlight shown brightly as we traveled home from the ballroom, just the two of us. I remember when my legs were straight and beautiful and I used them to chase my kids through the lawn as we romped and played. My hands not only fixed dinner but made cookies and cakes that delighted my family and friends.
These hands that seem so useless now could decorate a Christmas tree, rock a baby, comfort a small child and hug a loved one. These hands helped to cook many a church dinner, crochet an afghan and plant beautiful flowers in my garden.
And the old man with the blank stare could have many stories in his heart. As you look deep into his eyes, they could be saying:
I was so valuable to my company, why, they couldn't do without me. I remember how I brought in accounts that other salesmen couldn't touch. Sometimes I caused a little jealousy around the place.
And when I used to coach Little League, my boys thought I was the smartest guy in the world.
My wife used to say I could charm a rattlesnake. What fun we used to have traveling across the country with the kids. Boy, those were the days!"
And the little lady in the corner with a quiet dignity could tell a different story:
I never felt so good as I did when someone brought his sick dog or cat into my office to be healed. Holding a little furry animal that was so loved by a family and realizing that I would be able to heal it was exhilarating.
I can't tell you how many animals came into my office with different needs. Every single one of them was precious to me. I still can't believe that God gave me a gift that would provide so much enjoyment.
I never had a family of my own, no husband nor kids. But those little furry creatures and their owners were family enough for me. I wonder if there are pets in heaven. I certainly hope so.
Yes, some nursing home residents have families and friends who love them dearly and visit them often. But others do not. Some live with pain and suffering. All had a different life at a different time.
But for those who believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, Revelation 21:4 tells it all: "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
No one knows what the future holds, but one day on this Earth we may all have stories in our hearts that we cannot tell. And those empathetic people who treat us with dignity will be a mighty blessing in our lives. Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroomCopyright ©2005 Omaha World-Herald
BASEBALL IN HEAVEN
Two ninety-one year old men, Moe and Sam, have been friends all their lives.
It seems that Sam is dying of cancer, and Moe comes to visit him every day.
"Sam," says Moe, "You know how we have both loved baseball all our lives, and how we played minor league ball together for so many years. Sam, you have to do me one favor. When you get to Heaven, and I know you will go to Heaven, some how you've got to let me know if there's baseball in Heaven."
Sam looks up at Moe from his death bed, and says, "Moe, you've been my best friend many years. This favor, if it is at all possible, I'll do for you."
And shortly after that, Sam passes on.
It is midnight a couple of nights later. Moe is sound asleep when he is awakened by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calls out to him, "Moe.... Moe...."
"Who is it?" says Moe sitting up suddenly. "Who is it?"
"Moe, it's me, Sam."
"Come on. You're not Sam. Sam just died."
"I'm telling you," insists the voice. "It's me, Sam!"
"Sam? Is that you? Where are you?"
"I'm in heaven," says Sam, "and I've got to tell you, I've got really good news and a little bad news."
"So, tell me the good news first," says Moe.
"The good news," says Sam "is that there is baseball in heaven. Better yet, all our old buddies who've gone before us are there. Better yet, we're all young men again. Better yet, it's always spring time and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play baseball all we want, and we never get tired!"
"Really?" says Moe, "That is fantastic, wonderful beyond my wildest dreams! .....But, what's the bad news?"
"You're pitching next Tuesday!"
Jay Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-303-717-0105
Jay Brady at a book signing
Do You Remember....
I know of no one better than writer and historian Jay Brady to capture the days of yesteryear.
His articles and book Do You Remember are a must read.
If you like what you read and want more of it, his book is available in the GIFT SHOP.
For any Nebraskan and even any non-Nebraskan, it is a must-read for self or gift.
Reminiscing is important and healthy. Articles of relevance are included.
Jay Brady can be reached at email@example.com or 1-303-717-0105.
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