Like millions of other 9 to10 year old boys before and after me, I was possessed by a burning desire play Little League baseball. The memorable summer of 1961 saw me donning the uniform of my hometown Franklin Drugs Little League team for the first time. I went on to play three seasons with the Franklin Drugs squad. The thought of free agency having never crossed my mind.
Our uniforms were modeled on those worn by the New York Yankees. We may not have played the game very well, but we sure looked good doing it. Since one of my favorite major league players happened to be Yogi Berra, the Yankees catcher, I asked for and received uniform #8. It would be difficult for me to put into words the pride that I took in wearing that uniform and being part of that team.
Even though Yogi was a favorite player, I was never called upon, nor did I ever ask to catch for the team. Not knowing where my unique skills as a ball player could best be put to use, I wasn’t quite sure which position I should attempt to play in my inaugural season. For that reason during our preseason practices, I migrated out into the friendly and wide open space otherwise known as right field.
I’m not quite sure why I chose that position. It may have been due to the fact that most hitters were right handed. This meant that in the unlikely event that a batter actually managed to hit a pitch, the ball would most likely stay on the 3rd base, shortstop, and left field side of the diamond. Assuming these contingencies to be valid, it seemed to me that right fielders would not be called upon to field the ball too often. Even at that young age, I understood probabilities and how to work them to my advantage.
My respite from fielding responsibility was to be short lived, however. On the third or fourth day of practice, Coach, who was standing alone at 3rd base, waved to me out in right field and bellowed, “Hustle in here! ”
Somewhat confused, I looked back across the infield in an attempt to gain the attention of the 1st baseman who at that moment was intent on studying a bug crawling on a dandelion. Another bellow from Coach brought the 1st baseman back to his senses, thus allowing me the opportunity to hurl the horsehide spheroid over to him on the fly.
“Congratulations,” Coach said with a smile, “you’re our new 3rd baseman. Nobody else has been able throw the ball that far.”
Such was the level of innate athleticism to be found on our team. Our prospects for the upcoming season never seemed brighter!
So began my tenure as a 3rd baseman. Inexplicably, I found myself playing at the “Hot Corner“, as it’s known in baseball parlance, due to the number of balls hit in that direction and the speed with which they get there.
My performance as a 3rd baseman was characterized by an unmistakable lack of range in covering my position, as well as a decided absence of speed in attempting to do so. To put a positive spin on my athletic skill set, as the season progressed, it became clear to all that Coach could have used a calendar to time my attempts to steal second base.
But hey! Beggars can’t be choosers. On those occasions when I did cleanly field a ball hit in my direction, I could throw it all the way to 1st base….. usually on the fly!
And in that snappy Franklin Drugs uniform, I looked damn good doing it!
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Photo from oldchesterpa.com