Old memories, old ballpark

2009 June 15
by Don Hammack

The ball came over the top of the dugout like a sports car momentarily divorced from the pavement careening over the top of a hill. I was probably 5 or 6 years old, too young to appreciate the humor of living a brief, painful example of the wrong place, wrong time cliche.

The memory came to me after a thread on a message board I frequent popped up a link to America’s oldest baseball stadium, Rickwood Field. I spent many a summer night in that park. We had season tickets, my mom bringing me out to the field most of the time. Dad likes sports, but if there’s a game on, the chances are Mom knows more about it than he does. Mom taught me to keep score right there at Rickwood Field. She’d learned it as a job skill while working summers for the Gulfport parks department. Go to the history tab and look at the 1970s photos. I distinctly remember that Orioles-Braves game, and we thought Al Lewis was the greatest thing ever.

Our seats were right by the top of the steps leading from the outfield side of the home dugout by first base. We got to talk with the players, coaches and trainers. The equipment guys used to give us broken bats as souvenirs. It was in the heyday of the Swingin’ A’s, although I don’t think the Birmingham A’s were ever that great.

As a kid, we spent more time under the stands than in our seats. I loved baseball, but I loved playing it more than watching it. Plus, there were these huge (to a 5-year-old) piles of that gorgeous red clay dirt down there. Lord knows how our entire house didn’t glow rust brown from the clouds of it we brought in after a game.

Even more than the filth, however, it was playing baseball that drew me away from our box seats. Actually, it was cupball. Stuff a wadded up wax Coca-Cola cup in another one, wad it up and, voila, a pseudo-baseball. Use your hand for a bat and it’s a game.

Whether I was coming back to my seat from a cupball game or what, I don’t remember. (It is remarkable, in hindsight, that there was not a visit from child protective services for a mother who let her child out of her sight at a stadium like that. Today, Nancy Grace would be screaming at you from Atlanta for it.) But I was coming down the steps when that pitch got slapped my way. It one-hopped the dugout, as I remember it, I saw it coming but was powerless to get out of the way.

Ball met little boy, luckily in the best place it ever could in a way that would be the most terrifying to the recipient. I’d never had the wind knocked out of me until that day. To a kid, it seems like you’ll never, ever, ever be able to breath again.

Eventually, of course, I did. And I remember a lot of other great things about Rickwood Field, so it wasn’t that traumatic. I never had any trouble getting in front of a ground ball, so maybe it was an early lesson that put a little fearlessness into a kid.

One Response leave one →
  1. 2009 June 15
    CHRIS BARFIELD permalink


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