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by Philip Gulley


    My father was a Little League coach when I was growing up. He coached the Printer’s Devils, which was sponsored by the local newspaper, The Republican. A printer’s devil was an apprentice who worked for a newspaper learning the trade. That catchy phrase isn’t used anymore because newspapers no longer employ apprentices. Journalists today learn their trade in college.

    Betty Weesner owned The Republican and still does. She inherited it from her father, Pug Weesner. The Republican first rolled off the presses in 1847 and hasn’t missed an issue since. Betty Weesner prays every day someone will come along and take over after she’s gone. I walk by her office, just east of the courthouse, and see her bent over the old Linotype. Sometimes I think of walking through her door and asking if she’ll take me on as a printer’s devil and teach me that wonderful trade.

    My father coached thirty years ago, when it cost one hundred dollars to sponsor a Little League team. That bought twelve uniforms. The kids had to buy their shoes and mitts and the coach paid for the trip to the Dairy Queen if the team won. Betty would bring her lawn chair to each game, unfold it next to the dugout, and oversee her investment.

    In addition to Betty Weesner, the two banks each sponsored a team, along with Baker’s Hardware, Stevenson-Jensen Insurance, and the Home Lumber Company. There were a few other teams whose names now escape me. This was, after all, thirty years ago. What I remember is Betty Weesner sitting in her lawn chair cheering on her boys. Girls didn’t play back then.

    I played for Baker’s Hardware under Coach Buck Leath. The highlight of my career was when Buck’s son, Jeff, got hit by a line drive and Buck nodded at me to take his place on the pitcher’s mound. I pitched a no-hitter. Walked twelve straight batters. Mostly I played right field, in front of the Meazel’s Jewelers sign. Jewelry for the Discriminating Customer the sign read. The outfield fence was lined with signs from local establishments. I was not kept very busy in right field and by season’s end had all the signs memorized, in order, starting with Max Poynter Insurance and ending with Johnston’s Regal Grocery-Why Shop Anywhere Else? For Home Delivery Dial Sherwood 5-4285.

    All of this took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before parents were so earnest and everything became a big production. Parents would sit on the bleachers and visit, unless it was their turn to work the concession stand, where they sold licorice whips for a penny and orange Push-Ups for a dime. The children played underneath the stands and told jokes. “Say, did you hear about the book, Under the Bleachers, by Seymour Bottoms?” You could hear them cackle.

    There was a game every June evening except for Sundays and Wednesdays, which were church nights. The game began after supper at seven o’clock. At 7:45, Joe Hawkins threw the switch up in the crow’s nest and light would flood the field. If you tired of the game, you could watch the bugs under the lights. If you were especially lucky, Joe Hawkins might pick you to sit on the scoreboard and hang the numbers at the end of each inning.

    People didn’t take the games very seriously. Occasionally a coach might get upset and yell. Once I remember my normally calm father unbuckling his Timex wristwatch and flinging it toward the outfield. After the game he sent me to look for it, but I couldn’t find it. The watch had been a birthday gift from my mother, who gave him a porch swing the next year, reasoning that it couldn’t be as easily thrown.

Not much has changed over the years except that the parents seem a little more uptight, as if their family pride is on the line.
    They still play Little League at the park. Joe Hawkins still throws the light switch at 7:45 PM. and still picks the kids to run the scoreboard. I take my sons to the park to watch. They can’t tell the difference between Little League games, which are free, and Indianapolis Indians games, which are not, so I take them to Little League games. Not much has changed over the years except that the parents seem a little more uptight, as if their family pride is on the line.

    Little League championships are now televised. Teams from Japan play teams from Puerto Rico. Major league scouts lurk in the stands, hoping to spot the next Mark McGwire. Shoe manufacturers pass out free shoes, wanting to embed their logo in the minds of impressionable youth. This confirms my worst suspicion about organized sports — that given the chance, adults will eventually taint any sport in which they have a part.

    I have read of enraged Little League parents fighting and cursing and storming the umpire. Parents gone berserk. Red-faced, vein-popping, eye-bulging mad. There is a certain father in the local soccer league who screams at his five-year-old son to “go on the attack” and “stop messing around.” One Saturday morning, I watched the fifteen-year-old referee stop the game and escort the man to the parking lot. It thrilled me to no end. I was happy the rest of the day.

    My older son plays in the soccer league. I was opposed to it at the time and still am. I’m skeptical of any enterprise where the adults keep asking the children if they’re having fun. I don’t go out of my way to attend every game, nor do I make him practice with me every day in the yard so he’ll have an edge. I believe children are better served when adults have their games and children have theirs. I do want him to play sports, so I bought a house with a big yard. But I want him to play with children, not adults. If I’m not careful I could be a real crackpot about this.

    When I was growing up, I played sandlot baseball, which is now in its death throes. This is because parents don’t want children to organize their own play, for fear that children chosen last will be scarred for life. I played sandlot ball every summer day and was invariably chosen last. If I had run home crying about it, my mother would have swatted me on the bottom and sent me back to the Barrys’ front yard, which is where we played. The stump from the maple tree was first base, the tulip tree second base, the lilac bush third base. Home plate was Kevin Barry’s T-shirt.

    Not everyone had a baseball mitt, so we shared. No one had cleats, though my brother Doug once taped thumbtacks to the bottom of his Keds tennis shoes. We played ten innings or until someone came up with a better game to play or until James Martin had to leave and take his ball with him. Never once did a parent intrude, offering to pitch or help choose sides or umpire. We would have thought it absurd and quickly found something else to do. Adults, after all, were strange creatures, to be avoided at all costs.

    This was back in the days when children had huge chunks of summer hours to fill, back when parents didn’t feel the need to cram every hour with meaningful activity. So we swam in the creek, rode our bikes all over town, and played sandlot baseball, girls and boys alike. Carol Barry was a good batter, had an arm like Willie Mays, and could run like the wind. When we entered Little League and the adults told us girls couldn’t play, it only confirmed our suspicions that adults were stranger than strange. Of course, we knew girls were different but we didn’t know the difference, though we suspected it had something to do with Carol Barry’s never offering her shirt for home plate.

    Ours was not a precise game. It was roughly thirty feet from home plate to first base, but nearly twice as far from first base to second, which made hitting a double an occasion for pride. We had no umpire. If the catcher tagged you out at home plate and you thought you were safe, you argued for five minutes then reached a suitable compromise. No adult intervened. No parent hastened out to see what all the noise was about. It was glorious fun.

    Certain Christians I know are suspicious of fun. They live in constant fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time. They believe faith is a serious, somber business. Jesus never subscribed to that notion. He told his followers, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” When we live as if that isn’t true, when even fun is serious business, we pollute the gospel. We’re like those Little League parents who’ve turned a harvest of joy into a plague of misery.

      From the book For Everything a Season, by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., used by permission.

      Title: ""
      Author: Philip Gulley
      Publication Date: July 31, 2001


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For Everything a Season For Everything a Season
Philip Gulley
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