My adventure with Dan Bankhead and the chicken on the spit was out of this world for a ten-year-old kid, but I was soon to learn that this was just the tip of the iceberg. The Dodgers had a utility player named Rocky Bridges. Rocky didn't get as much time on the field as the other players, so he spent time in the dugout with me. He chewed tobacco, and I thought it was so cool seeing him spit the juice five or six feet. The next day I showed up with some licorice, and I sat in the dugout next to Rocky, spitting juice. This was cool, until Pop pointed out that I had juice down my pant leg and on my shoes.
Since Pop was a player on the semi-pro level, I was able to take advantage of his teachings. I went into the house many a time with a nosebleed resulting from fielding a ground ball with my face. This, however, helped make me a pretty fair baller among my peers. So, when we went to spring training, I packed my glove and was able to spend some time on the field with the big boys.
When coaches would stand behind the third base coach’s box and hit grounders to the infielders, I would catch the relay coming from first base. This turned out to be more than recreation. A game of pitch and catch with my buddies was one thing, but I wasn’t prepared for the heat of a throw from a big league player from 120 feet away. If you drink a bottle of Tabasco sauce, you may be able to understand the reason those tears were running down my cheeks. I am glad to say I didn’t bail out. I hung in there with a combination of pride and stupidity.
I once had the opportunity to stand in the batter’s box while Preacher Roe threw heat to Roy Campanella. I was just an obstacle he was using as a target and I stood there with a smile on my face. But, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I want my Mommy!” Against all instructions, I took a swing at one of the pitches. I made contact, and the ball traveled about three feet. Fortunately Campanella made light of the situation by leaping from behind the plate yelling, “Run it out!” This took the heat off, but Pop invited me to put my butt back on the bench.
One season Jackie Robinson brought his family to spring training. I was kind of happy because I had Jack and David to play with. This didn’t last long, because I was older and found myself as a kind of baby sitter. Jack was ok, but David, being younger, was kind of a pain in the butt. I soon dusted these two dudes and went about my business (I had other fish to fry).
Next week, on to Tucson.
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