Reminds me of when I played the game

I have made my way slowly back into collecting baseball cards over the past decade or so. I don’t do it because I think they’re worth any money, but because it helps me to think about things that are unrelated to work, or the day-to-day issues that come up in life. Those things are important, certainly, but there are old baseball players and games that I’d rather discuss instead.

In addition to collecting Cubs cards from the 1970s onward, I also look for players that either came from Springfield, Illinois, or once played ball there in the minor leagues. One of the players in the former category is Jeff Fassero, who had a long career in the majors and is still a pitching coach in the Cubs’ minor league system.

I usually use the front of a player’s card when I write this type of a post, but in this case something on the back of his card caught my attention. In fact, I gasped for breath when I saw it, and I knew I had to share it in this space.

Beneath Fassero’s big league statistics, there is a blurb indicating that he played Khoury League baseball (along with other leagues) as he was growing up. I had forgotten all about my own playing days in the Khoury League but now, thanks to a card company’s need to fill some space on the back of a player’s card, I can recall some of my own memories well enough to put them out there for the rest of the world to consider.

I went to Google and discovered that the Khoury League (it’s pronounced CORE-ee, or at least that’s how I always said it) is still in existence. I half expected it to be defunct, given baseball’s seeming decline among young kids. It was very encouraging to know that the league I played in, and all of my friends played in, and Jeff Fassero played in, still exists today.

I played in Khoury League baseball for five seasons. I began in what was called Atom II, since my parents wanted me to play tee-ball when all of my friends were in Atom I. The way it was set up, you always played teams that were your age or one year above (if you were in Atom I) or one year below (if you were in Atom II).  Those age differences can be huge, especially when it came to the playoffs at the end of the year. An Atom I team rarely, if ever, beat an Atom II team. The Atom I team just ended their season, and then came back the next year to beat up on the Atom I teams.

After Atom II, I graduated to Bantam I and Bantam II, and then on to Midget I and Midget II. There were other levels beyond that, but no one I knew continued on past Midget II. So by the time I left Khoury League ball, I had played for five seasons, from the time I was eight until I was 13. It was a lot of fun, as I recall.

The highlight of my time in Khoury League was hitting a home run in the Midget II playoffs, near the end of my career (if that’s actually what it was). My team, sponsored by First National Bank of Springfield, was playing against another team, sponsored by Fishman’s Sporting Goods, in the playoffs. Fishman’s players were a year younger than us–in Midget I–and so tradition held that it was our time to win. And we did win, but not before I blasted a home run and made it all the way around the bases without so much as a play at the plate.

We had no outfield fences in the league, so after I smashed the ball I took off running. I was the kid who usually struck out, and who the coach played as little as possible, typically in the outfield where I wouldn’t do very much damage. For that kid to run around the bases, at top speed with his head down all the way, was a great feeling for me.

Making matters even better was the fact that my friend and neighbor from across the street was on the Fishman’s team. We never really talked about it after the game, but we didn’t have to, either. The next year they probably got to beat up on a group of younger kids, as well.

I thank the Topps card company for putting the Khoury League into print, and thus dredging up the kind of memories that had long been buried in the corners of my mind. I did play a little bit of baseball after that, but the bulk of my playing days were as a Khoury Leaguer, and I’m certainly grateful for that.


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