A short story to start things off

I wrote a story about something I picked up at a garage sale last week.  So how does one get their thoughts out to the world nowadays? By putting it on a blog, right? So I started a blog to put this (and future musings) out there for whoever might care to read it. And putting it out there somewhere just has to be better than letting it die in my brain or on my desktop. 

My hometown of Springfield, Illinois has a rich baseball history that most people don’t know, or care, too much about. In fact, three members of the baseball Hall of Fame were born there (and in case you’re curious, they are pitcher Robin Roberts, executive Ed Barrow, and umpire Al Barlick). That may not sound like much, but consider that 21 states haven’t produced so many Hall of Famers as a town of 125,000, and it does seem like something.

Maybe that history is what caused the St. Louis Cardinals to move their triple A farm team from New Orleans to Springfield in the late 1970s. The team, which was named the Springfield Redbirds, even had the great Satchel Paige in their front office. I certainly wish I knew more about who he was back then, and that I had the foresight to hold onto the program that he signed for me at one of their games.

But the real draw for the team was probably that Springfield, located only a hundred miles from St. Louis, is right the middle of Cardinals country. And that was my problem growing up. Somehow, in the middle of all that, I had to get by as—get ready for it—a Cubs fan.

The Cubs had the cooler ballpark, so far as I could tell. WGN and Jack Brickhouse  brought Wrigley Field into my family’s home every afternoon. Jack Buck and the radio couldn’t compete with that. Besides, the Cardinals had astroturf on their field, and this big batting donut-shaped ballpark with arch designs all around the top. After attending one game at Busch Stadium with my dad, I knew that I couldn’t follow such a team. But this other team, the one with afternoon games in the funky ballpark and a grandfatherly TV announcer, was just what I had in mind. And so an agonizing relationship began, and it continues to this day.

But back to the Redbirds for a moment. One of their promotional giveaways in the late 1970s was batting helmet night. Kids at the game received a Springfield Redbirds batting helmet, which was actually a Cardinals batting helmet with a Redbirds logo covering up the Cardinals insignia. My desire to get a free helmet–albeit a red and thus Cardinals-related one–trumped my personal misgivings about the Cardinals and their farm team.

I can still remember seeing a picture, which was obviously taken the next day, in which my brother, sister, the neighbor across the street, and I are all proudly wearing our bright red batting helmets. We played a lot of backyard whiffle ball in those days, and we wanted to look the part of a real ballplayer. The red helmets allowed us to do just that.

But time went by, and as it did the whiffle ball games stopped taking place. The dirt spots that marked the bases eventually returned to their original grassy state.  I don’t know what became of those helmets, either, but I imagine my mom tossed them out one day. Maybe she looked at them wistfully when she did, and maybe she didn’t. But for my part, I never really gave it any thought at all. That is, until I went to a garage sale this afternoon.

There wasn’t much to be had at the sale, and I was about to walk away when I spotted a batting helmet, just like the one I had when I was a kid. But this one was blue, and had a Cubs logo on it! My inner 10 year-old thought Man! If only I had one of these back in the day, instead of that freebie Cardinals/Redbirds one that I got at the ballpark, I would have been the happiest kid there was. So for the grand sum of one dollar, I bought a whole bunch of memories, and I thought about how much my life has changed since those carefree days in the late 70s.

After I made off with my find, I had to adjust the inner lining (called the “Adjustrap”) to its biggest possible setting. After all, these things weren’t really made for men my age. Once I put it on my head, though, I wore it around the office for the entire afternoon. The feeling I got from it is something I can’t fully put into words. If only every dollar I spent could bring me so much happiness, and every garage sale could transport me back to a time and place I had long since forgotten about.

5 thoughts on “A short story to start things off

  1. So I’m not sure you’ll see this comment but I’ll give it a try.

    I live in Springfield and the other day I took my sons to a nearby, little-used diamond at Schlitt Park near Owen Marsh School. While we were practicing hitting an elderly couple drove up and asked if I knew where Whitey Poland Khoury League park (or perhaps diamond) was located. The wife, Joyce, was the daughter of Samuel C. “Whitey” Poland who had apparently supported the league. When he died in an airplane crash in 1967 his family set up a memorial fund in his name for the benefit of the league. They wanted to know if the park still existed and if the metal plaque placed in Whitey’s honor there was still extant. Since I moved to Springfield in 1992 I don’t remember there ever being a Khoury league here and have never seen a park named such.

    An online search of the State Journal Register yielded a few tidbits. In the 70s there was a team named after Whitey (back when newspapers still posted youth league scores). There was a Khoury league in town that lasted into the early 80s and it might have been named after him as well. I see by a different post you played Khoury league in Springfield at some point in the past– do you recall this name? Was there a park or a diamond named after Whitey? I’ve taken up Joyce’s cause because I have an interest in local history, but I also have a bizarre passion for the changing nature of city parks. I’m strangely compelled by abandoned baseball diamonds. Wherever I travel I like to take a jog in the park and snap pics of empty baseball diamonds. It’s weird.

    Anyway if you can remember anything it’d be a big help

    Chris Schnell
    Senior Library Specialist, University Archives
    Brookens Library
    University of Illinois–Springfield
    cschn1@uis.edu

    1. Only took five years to reply to this, but better late than never, I suppose.

      My team in the Khoury league existed from 1976 to 1981. The league was headquarted in St. Louis, although I didn’t know it at the time. There was two years of Atom league play, then two years of Bantam play, then two years of Midget play, and by then most people had aged out of playing organized baseball. I’d be surprised if the Khoury League even existed anymore, to be honest with you.

      Schlitt Park was a big deal in those days because it had lights for playing night games. I never played there, I don’t think.

      I hope you’ve found some interesting places in your time in Springfield. All the best to you.

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