Lyndon Johnson was the President of the United States. The Beatles were some newfangled band invading our shores from England back in the days when I played Little League baseball.
The U.S. was in turmoil as was much of the world as we as a nation were trying to make sense of the JFK assassination, the Viet Nam War and the coming waves of long hair, bellbottoms and pot-smoking and the like.
In my own sheltered little world in one of the most isolated locales in mostly rural Arkansas, a little town called Mountain View, deep in the mountains of north central Arkansas, I started playing Little League baseball in 1964 as a wide eyed eight year old.
I don’t remember details of most of the games. I can recall the names of maybe one or two Little League teammates. My family moved to the eastern part of Arkansas in 1965 and I have never lived in the area since. I have lived mostly in central and northwestern Arkansas in the years since.
I remember the Coach was a man with the surname Jeffrey or Jeffries. We were told that from our humble beginnings that there was the possibility of our being “the next Mickey Mantle”, the ultimate baseball hero to many at the time.
I recall our Little League team not having sponsors to provide uniforms, so we played in blue jeans and a white T shirt. I remember us being made fun of in a tournament in Searcy, AR as we were the only team not having unis. We had to tape numbers on the back of our Hanes T shirts.
Such was life in the ’60s in one of the least developed areas in a small rural state. One of the few specific Little League memories I have is of overhearing the Dad of one of my teammates remarking from the bleachers that “that kid can field, but he can’t hit a lick”.
I went to work on my hitting after that. Having no brothers and living out in the country, I often tossed a rubber ball, wiffle ball or even rocks into the air, hitting them for hours on end to shut up once and for all any loudmouth Little League parents.
Hitting became the best part of my game in time. After we moved from Mountain View in 1965 to the thriving metropolis of Oil Trough, AR, I played on a team that could afford uniforms. I once made a catch in centerfield that made my baseball-loving Dad proud, no small accomplishment in my eyes.
Later as we moved to Jonesboro in the northeastern part of Arkansas, I played for the Citizen’s Bank of Jonesboro Little League team. The names of the players and coaches have become blurred with time as we moved often from the time I was 9 until I entered college.
I recall hittting a lot of homers off our pitchers in practice, but had trouble hitting them in games. “Do that in a game” our catcher would say as I launched a ball out of the yard in practice.
Our pitching was less than stellar it seemed, with a hard thrower who could not throw strikes and a control pitcher who couldn’t get anyone out. It was no wonder I had trouble hitting in games as the other teams’ pitchers seemed to throw so much harder than ours.
Little League baseball was a fun experience for me for several reasons. One reason was the lack of “Little League parents” other than the one jerk critiquing an eight year old’s hitting prowess at the beginning of my Little League career.
in those days most parents, at least in my experience didn’t think their child should be put on a pedestal because of their ability to hit, throw or catch a ball. I never saw parents running on the field to argue with umpires or threaten the coach for not playing little Biff the entire game as we see often today.
There might have been a little of that but I never saw it. In hindsight, I would recommend Little League baseball for youngsters today to learn the value of team work among other reasons. I have mostly good memories of my Little League experiences and the lessons learned.