It is almost spring. Well, maybe not the warm weather part of it, but full spring training workouts for Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers start Feb. 14 and full squad workouts begin Feb. 19, the same day Ohio high school baseball coaches can start coaching their kids.
I am not a baseball fan. But I do like listening to the Reds on the radio. So when spring training rolls around, I know games on the radio can’t be far behind and better weather is slowly coming.
Baseball is like an oxymoron to me. I like listening to the Reds and I spent countless hours as a kid playing the game, or some form of it. But if the Reds aren’t playing, I really don’t care about baseball. And by the time July and August roll around, and the Reds have sunk to the bottom of the standings, I am so tired of baseball that watching tennis or golf almost sounds good. Almost.
As I was thinking about baseball a few weeks back, I jotted down some notes about my Little League memories, thinking I might be able to form them into a column one day. That still might happen, but for now the version you get follows.
I was 9 when I started playing Little League. It was my first attempt at organized sports – there was no soccer in those days and other sports didn’t start until junior high school – and I was more than ready for the chance.
We had a pretty decent team that year – I think we finished second – but when I think back on those days it’s not the wins and losses that come to mind. It’s goofy little things that are stuck in the recesses of my mind.
Back in those days we often practiced on a field that you no longer find at what is now Shaffer Park. It was located on the north side of the main entrance to the park, next to the old water works facility, and had a rickety backstop and some worn places where bases were supposed to be. Anyway, what I remember most from those days is one of my teammates, as we awaited our turn to field grounders, constantly singing these words: “French fried eyeballs in a bowel of gopher guts.” I even remember the notes he sang them to.
Those are the only words to the song I remember, and don’t know for sure if they are exactly correct. But that’s how I remember them, and from time to time, usually when baseball comes to mind, I find myself humming them.
Fast forward to a couple years after my original Little League season. My new team, Robertshaw, was playing an intense “A” League game against the Lions Club, which hadn’t lost in like five years. Lions Club was coached by the late Kelly Ferguson, and one of their players was one of Kelly’s sons, the same one who sang “French fried eyeballs in a ball of gopher guts.” It is the one and only game I remember the result of because we ended the Lions Club’s long winning streak.
Fast forward another year. Robertshaw was playing the Lions Club again. One of the strengths of Kelly’s teams was knowing how to run the base paths, and they did it daringly. Anyway, I was playing second base and Kelly’s son – yes, the “French fried eyeballs in a bowl of gopher guts” guy – took a huge lead off second base after a pitch. I went over to cover the bag while our catcher was staring down the runner.
Our catcher kept walking closer and closer to second base, faking throws to me all the time, because the runner would not go back to second base. He would get a little closer to the base as the catcher got closer to him, but would not put a foot on the bag.
It got to the point where the catcher was about 10 feet away from me, and the runner was still a step or two off the bag. By that time our catcher was aggravated, and suddenly he unleashed a hard throw in my direction. But he was too close, and I didn’t have time to get my glove all the way up. The ball nicked the top of my glove, smashed me in the mouth, and broke one of my two front teeth cleanly in half.
As blood was dripping from my mouth, I vividly remember watching my dad walk out of the stands, kick a trash can when he got near the diamond entrance, then come out and check on me.
People tried to escort me off the field, but I was too stubborn for that and eventually they let me stay in the game.
To this day I have a false tooth because of that incident.
That was my last year of Little League. But giving up the game had nothing to do with losing a tooth. Heck, Kelly’s son and I were good buddies by then and our catcher and I have always gotten along just fine.
I gave up baseball because it could never hold my attention. It still can’t.
But before long, the Reds will be on the radio, and sometime while I’m listening I’ll probably hum a few lines of, “French fried eyeballs in a bowel of gopher guts…”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]