The Left Fielder

 

Just about a year ago, in the 2017 fall season, Mary Ann and I were searching for a church after moving to Lake Norman. One Sunday we visited a church that we eventually joined, and one of the announcements congratulated a member who had turned one hundred years old. When her surname was announced I recognized it because it was an unusual name that I recalled from  my much younger years. I thought, “Could she be a relative of his?”

In the 1950s my hometown of Kannapolis had, as some other surrounding towns, an American Legion baseball team. The team played in a small, but nice stadium with a concrete wall beyond the outfield that ran from foul line to foul line, and a grandstand with dark green painted seats that spanned from third base to first base. The grandstand was even covered with a large, wooden structure.  And, the team was good. It drew players from some near-by mill towns that did not sponsor a Legion team, so the talent pool was deep, and the team had a good coach . It was a great time to be a boy and watch the players, hoping that one day we too could wear the wool uniform, hit with the wooden bat, and run the bases. We boys learned that if we stood outside the stadium in the parking lot and grabbed a foul ball, we could return it to the ticket booth for free admission.

One summer in the mid to late 1950s, a player from Mooresville would come to  our house with some local boys who were on the team. He seemed to be smitten with one of my sisters, but all I cared about was that he, a fine left fielder for our American Legion team, was at our house.  He was not very big, in fact, he was rather small, but he was fast. He could run down any fly ball from the left field foul line to deep left center field. He also could hit. Oh, to hear him drive a fast pitch into a gap between fielders was a special sound and sight. However, he was also kind and gentle with a young boy who saw him as a heroic figure. A boy who looked to him for help in learning the art of baseball. A boy who looked to him as a male figure. However, that summer of a special baseball team and his presence in my young life passed quickly as the team won,  and too soon he returned to Mooresville and his life there. I was left with one more memory until, over fifty years later, his presence is brought back into focus when his surname is mentioned in a church announcement.

Unfortunately, when I heard his name, I did not make inquiries. I “let it go”, and only wondered, now and then, if he were connected to our new church. Then, one day the left fielder’s  death was announced at church, in our local newspaper, and I understand that no seat could be found in the sanctuary during his funeral.  And because of my letting something go, I had missed the opportunity to see him as an adult and thank him for what he unknowingly gave a young boy during that summer of great baseball.

Not long ago I happened to attend the early service at church, and a lady introduced herself. She had the same surname of the deceased left fielder and the centenarian who, the kind lady told me,  was his mother. Excited, and determined not to miss this opportunity, I began a monologue about  the great left fielder from Mooresville who befriended a boy in Kannapolis during that magical summer. The lady stood quietly listening politely. When I finished, she said, “He was my husband.”  She then shared more about his  baseball talents, how as a young man he went to Florida to try out for a major league team, but he was deemed too small.  Smiling the smile of a time past, she told me that the summer I talked about was the one she spent at the beach, and we shared with each other our separate memory of the good left fielder.

I was wrong in not asking if he was associated with our church when I heard his surname. During that long-ago summer, he told me more than once how important it was to “get the jump on the ball” if it were hit to your field. I should have listened to his advice that morning in the 2017 fall season and gotten the jump on hearing his name. But I stood flat-footed and missed the chance to thank him before cancer struck him out. But I learned, and I did not miss when the lovely lady introduced herself before the early service that I just happened to attend. Now, when I sometimes attend the same service as she, we chat and always share our memories of the fine left fielder. That’s enough.

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