by Bob Sparrow
(Details for this blog came from a one-page account that my father wrote about his baseball experience in the 40s and brother Jack’s recollections)
The crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass, the ‘pop’ of a hardball hitting a leather glove. Baseball’s spring training has started with the regular season just around the corner. Baseball is still called America’s pastime, but as far as popularity goes, statistically football, basketball and NASCAR get more viewers.
But I still have a more personal connection to baseball, even though I only played Little League for two years and one year in high school and not that well. That connection came from my Dad, who started throwing a baseball with Jack and me from the time we were old enough to . . . catch it.
Dad loved baseball. As a freshman at Willows High School in northern California, he made the varsity squad as a second baseman, but it was the pre-Depression era and his father made him get a job instead of playing baseball. He was heartbroken. He did get to play high school baseball when his family moved to San Rafael and played well enough to get offered a tryout with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, but his dad again insisted that he get a job, as they were now deep into the Depression. I’m sure this experience weighed heavily on Dad’s decision later in life to make sure that Jack and I had every opportunity to play high school sports.
However, Dad did get to play baseball again. Our hometown of Novato had a semi-pro ‘Merchants League’ made up of 20-30 year olds from town that played other teams from the surrounding area, including a team from San Quentin prison, who only played ‘home’ games! At Novato home games, several of the wives would ‘pass the hat’ in order to pay for the umpire and some baseballs and bats; brother Jack was the ‘Bat Boy’ for the team. After the home games, win or lose, the team would go to the local watering hole, ‘The Village Inn’ where the owner, Lydia Quarg would buy them their first drink and the kids had a table in the back room where we had sodas and popcorn. During hot games Lydia would send a case of cold beer into the dugout for the team to enjoy.
Dad was a great fielder, had great hands and could turn a double play from second base with the best of them, and he could also hit fairly well, not the long ball, but lots of singles; some that could have been doubles, but due to his slowness of foot, he had to stop at first. His teammates in Noavato kidded him by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t know that you don’t have to stop at first, that you can turn left.” Dad was one of the older players on the team and after several seasons he was getting a little ‘long in the tooth’, but because he was such a nice guy, the team didn’t really know how to tell him it was time for him to retire. They knew he had a great sense of humor, so the last home game of the season, before he got to the game his teammates put a rocking chair out at the second base position. When he got there, he took one look, laughed and played his last game. Such a great memory.
Dad’s love of baseball included taking us to games in San Francisco to watch the San Francisco Seals in Pacific Coast League play at Seals Stadium. I remember the first game we saw was against the Oakland Oaks and I can remember to this day several of the Seals players – Roy Nicely, Les Fleming, Dario Lodigiani and Cliff ‘Ears’ Melton. When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, they first played in Seals Stadium until their new stadium was finished and Dad took us to a number of Giants games where we got to watch the great Willie Mays play.
So spring practice is when hope springs eternal and every team is saying, ‘This is the year’. I’ve been lucky as a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants that they’ve had recent World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014. I know they’re hopeful this year as it’s Bruce Bochy’s final season as their manager.
Whether the Giants win another one this year remains to be seen, but as a new season gets under way, I’m reminded once again of playing catch with Dad and Jack in our yard and watching Dad play for the Novato Merchants – truly great baseball memories.
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