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The baseball boys of 1964.

Bobby Jo loved my sister Sarah deep in the woods behind our house and I pretended not to notice he was whiter than most of the other boys. With red hair he was flaming. It's a wonder they didn't set the woods afire.

But that's another story. This is a baseball story about Bobby Richardson and Clete Boyer playing second and third for the Yankees. Whitey Ford was still on the mound humming fast balls and side arm sliders to Elston Howard catching hell for being one of the first coloreds behind the plate

glass window Bobby Jo broke with one of the longest home runs I've ever seen. Roberto Clemente was playing center for the Pirates and Sandy Koufax was hurling left-handed hooks I don't think anyone could hit

the beat-up baseball we played with that summer I was 14 and Bobby Jo was 15 and a half. Some days would catch us stealing honey buns from Mr. Kye Howard's store while Maury Wills, "The Saturday Afternoon Blur," was stealing bases for the Dodgers.

Hank Aaron was always in the batter's box trying to knock Milwaukee one run ahead of San Francisco's Willie Mays playing in the center of Candlestick Park chasing down every fly ball.

It was a time of shoe boxes and baseball cards in the pockets of school yard boys huddled around Mr. McGee, listening to the World Series on a portable radio that kept going in and out

looking for another shoe box big enough to hold my cards. "Name a player and I will tell you his lifetime batting average or his ERA." Roger Maris was hitting more home runs but big-stick Mickey Mantle was baiting "clean up

your room," Grandma would say every Saturday morning before I went to the field to meet Bobby Jo. Hampstead was a town where everyone was poor. I had a ball and Bobby Jo had a Louisville Slugger on his shoulder waiting for me to throw that one change-up that would change the direction of the wind as it sailed across the fence

that caged Bobby Jo's feelings of being the only white boy in town that wasn't afraid to call me his best buddy.

Perhaps the others were afraid because none of them could play every position like me and Bobby Jo behind the plate catching fast balls without a mask, daring anyone to steal second.

But I stole second like I stole Mr. Kye Howard's sweet cakes because I was quicker than the deer we hunted that fall on Mr. Jack Lea's property.

Chicago had Ernie Banks and Billy Williams but they couldn't ever win an even chance to play 7 games in the fields of my childhood overgrown with weeds, covered with holes. We knew exactly where every hole was even when we were chasing fly balls.

Bobby Jo's father, I don't think he ever said a word but his mother used to get real mad every time I came in the front door when the Milwaukee Braves were playing and Eddie Matthews was knocking home runs.

That was my favorite team. I don't know why. Perhaps because my brother Lee gave me a cap with a big M on it the year he died. It was a small funeral where no one cried. Bobby Jo's mother wouldn't let him go.

It's been almost 20 years now and I miss what I think he could have been. He wasn't much good at baseball but he had a head for facts and figures. Maybe he could have been a manager like old Casey Stengel. I don't know

what difference that little fish house town has made in my life of roaming deers and running bases that sometimes seemed spaced out just a bit farther because I was the only colored baseball boy around.

Some days I tried to talk to Bobby Jo about life but he didn't care about anything but the seams of a baseball. I guess his hair was just a little too red to measure the distance from home plate to second base and back or what it would take for me to play centerfield on the only church team in town.

Earl S. Braggs, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, is UC Foundation Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His collection Hat Dancer Blue won the 1992 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. His chapbook Hats was published in 1989.
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Author:Braggs, Earl S.
Publication:African American Review
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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