It mattered not whether we won or lost – not even how we played the game. What mattered was only, given the frequent rains of spring and early summer, that we got to play.
I wasn’t the fastest runner in the Holmes County 8-to-12-year-old league. Not only am I overendowed with avoirdupois, my legs are so short that my cargo pants have shin pockets, not thigh pockets.
Nevertheless, I managed to be the league’s version of Maury Wills, besting all others in base stealing. (Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson hadn’t been invented yet.)
One might chalk my success up to the eternal optimism of 11-year-old second basemen – or maybe just their near-universal ignorance of the laws of physics.
It wasn’t hard to get on base frequently. It wasn’t so much that I was a great hitter as that, with a vertically narrowed strike zone and an oversized target for hit-batsman walks, I gathered more than my share of free passes to first.
Leads were illegal, so I’d dutifully maintain my position on base until the ball left the pitcher’s hand, then lumber toward second. The catcher could have autographed the baseball before throwing it and still gotten ahead of me.
The baseman could catch the ball, wind his watch, scratch a variety of itches and have time left to make the tag.
But the baseline belongs to the runner, and the infielder was usually in it. I wasn’t intentionally aggressive, but the second baseman invariably stood between where I was and where I needed to be, leaving me no choice but to lower my shoulder and demonstrate the fallacy of the “immovable object” theory.
Most basemen dropped the ball on the first backward somersault, but a few held on until their second revolution. Still, when the ball hits the ground, the runner is safe, so my title was inevitable.
For road games in Lexington, we’d load up in Charlotte Wynne’s station wagon and tell jokes the whole way. On the longer rides to Cruger, we’d count outhouses on Tchula’s main drag. Stopping at Fran’s Drive-Inn on the way home was a treasured treat.
The players who take the field today in Oxford will have snazzier uniforms than our faded LuVel Milk shirts. Their coaches are infinitely better paid than John Cauthen, who volunteered because his son was our first baseman, Rusty.
Were I a betting man, though, I would wager that it’s been years since any of those players will have had as much fun as we did back then, before the crack of bat on ball had been replaced by the ping.
Baseball is at its best when you’re a boy.
Contact Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.