I have some fond memories of my childhood. Pop’s attitude towards me made me realize that he was not just my father, but my friend. We shared many adventures together.
Segregation in America was in full swing and athletes were no exception to the rule. For this reason quite a few ballplayers visiting Washington stayed at our house. Those who didn’t stay would always drop in for a visit and a home-cooked meal. On reflection, I guess to them I was just another pain-in-the-butt kid. But, they gave me a lot of attention and I was always sorry to see them leave.
Pop’s credentials gave us access to ball parks and I was able to see the Negro Leagues in full swing. For some reason during this period in my life, I had a bit of trouble with socks. There is a picture of me with Pop sitting on the wall at Griffith Stadium. The most noticeable feature of my attire was my socks drooping down around my ankles. Pop was fond of telling the story of me getting off of the plane in Greensboro, N.C. The fact that I had made the trip alone was just an afterthought, because the first words of my greeting were, “I got dressed all by myself.” Pop said this was obvious since I was wearing one blue sock and one brown sock.
When people would spin yarns about the Negro players, I could put a face to the names. “Smokey” Joe Williams could throw a baseball it so fast that blind men would come to the park just to listen to him pitch. “Cool Papa” Bell was so fast that he could walk into his hotel room, hit the light switch and be in the bed before the room got dark. Josh Gibson, noted for hitting line drives out of the park, was said to be able to hit a baseball so hard and far, that women could hang laundry on the vapor trail.
During this period Pop was connected to the local semi-pro basketball team. On one occasion, they announced that they would have a Father/Son game during half time. I had spent many an hour shooting hoops into a wicker basket attached to the garage, so I thought this was just my meat. I wasn’t tall enough to reach the tap at the sink to draw a glass of water, so looking around at these guys (all seemingly nine feet tall), I thought, “This ain’t going to work.”
I was instructed to have a seat, which I did so gladly. I later learned that two of the participants, Tarzan Cooper and Pop Gates were members of the Globetrotters.
During this period in my life, the thing I enjoyed most was going to spring training with the baseball teams. Since Jackie Robinson was firmly entrenched as a premier player in Major League Baseball, it was Pop’s job to cover his exploits. It was as if someone said, “You put him there, now go watch his back.”
The trips to Florida where the Dodgers trained were special. I was 10 years old and able to travel on the overnight train all by myself. Tell me that ain’t full grown.
While with the Dodgers, pitcher Dan Bankhead took a liking to me. During off-time, he would come and get me and we would go forth on some kind of adventure.
One day when we passed this store, and in the window was this whole chicken cooking on a spit. Neither of us had seen anything like that except in the movies.
Dan went into the store and bought a chicken, and there we were, walking down the street pulling pieces off this chicken and eating just like Robin Hood and his merry men.
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