Rural America had a passion for baseball in the 1950’s – 1960’s. In the years before that, as the Utah settlers found the need to relax, towns put together teams that traveled between communities such as Tooele, Grantsville, Cedar Fort, Eureka and other budding metropolises.
In smaller towns such as Erda, Stockton, St. John and Pine Canyon – boys played ball before they learned to write about it – long before. Baseball was organized into minor league, pony league and Babe Ruth. Ages 8 thru 12 were eligible for minor league and all the small farming communities fielded a minor league team.
After the age of 12, to continue to play in the leagues meant traveling to Tooele in order to be on a team. That was difficult when there was hay to haul or fields needing plowed.
For young farm lads, being eight years old entitled them to play in a league with other kids ranging in ages eight through twelve. By today’s standards, it is unthinkable to expect 8 year olds’ to compete with 12 year olds’. No one thought much about that back then. Simply the way it was.
In fact, the collective attitude seemed to be ‘Let me at them’! We were not daunted in the least, at least outwardly.
What better way to learn that determination always outlasts intimidation? To step up to the plate as an 8 year old and dare the 11 or 12 year old pitcher to throw their hardest and fastest is a rite of passage.
The fear of being beaned with a baseball thrown full-speed was always less than the dread of letting down your team. The team was depending on you and the absolute worst thing that one could do, next to dropping the bat and running away, was to just stand there and be struck-out without even swinging the bat. Common sense dictates that if someone is throwing a very hard object at a very high speed, you do turn and seek shelter. Team spirit, on the other hand, demands that you try your level best to get some wood on the ball. Google that, if you need to.
No matter how many trips to the fountain, it seems impossible to conjour up a drop of spit in your mouth. This does make it hard to let your determination shine through. Pray that someone brought gum. That’s the way the big leaguers do it. That explains those ball players on tv looking like ole’ Bess with a mouthful of hay – they have cotton-mouth too! Whoa, we are in the big leagues now.
Just a couple more things. The laws of aerodynamics and averages being what they are – you are going to get hit with that hard little baseball thrown at high speeds. If you happen to be chewing gum, do not suck in a big breath when you get hit. In my baseball days, old Heimlich wasn’t around so there was a good possibility that you were gonna choke. They are going to pound you on the back harder than the baseball hit you or stick their fingers down your throat to get the gum out. These well-meaning farmers have just been greasing the tractor or cleaning out the pens, so avoid choking on your gum at all costs. Exhale when hit. If you must, accompany this with a word or the beginnings of a word – keep it clean. This is a family blog.
Second thing is never cry. That baseball hurts like the Dickens but not as bad as the years of shame if you burst into tears. Pain will eventually go away. It is acceptable to let your eyes water, silently, if you are hit in the back between the rib cage and the kidneys because that is just what your body does in that instance.
Otherwise … walk it off, shake it off, clench your teeth or rub it off. You have just received a free ticket to first base against a pitcher three or four years older than you. You have done your job and got on base – your teammates were not let down. That eases the pain just a bit.