Little League Baseball 1952

(Click on images to zoom more than once) Try outs for Little League started in the spring. On a Saturday morning at 9:00 AM, I showed up at the location designated on a flyer. Deeks Carroll, a classmate at Clissold Elementary School sixth grade, warned me that each kid had to perform well in fielding, hitting, and throwing at these tryouts. The coaches watched closely from the sidelines to select the players for the 1952 Morgan Park Little League. We gathered at a field in a softball complex. The organizers took our names, addresses, and telephone numbers and then put numbers on our front and back for the coaches to identify us for marking on their rating charts from one to ten. More than 200 kids appeared for evaluation there aged eight to twelve. I joined the twelve year-olds, so luckily went first with others my age. They put each of us in groups of three in the infield. One coach played first base while another coach hit five ground balls to each of the fielders from third base, short stop, and second base. Prospective coaches graded us on throwing to first and fielding the grounders. Then each of us hit five pitches thrown by a coach for our batting skill. I was finally finished after two and a half hours, but then the eleven year olds had to try out on the same field. The 8, 9 and 10 year olds tried out on the opposite field. The next evening I received a telephone call from Coach John Carroll who said, “Danny, I am glad we got you on the White Sox with my son Deeks and so is your cousin Phil.” (Click on image to zoom) “Thanks for selecting me and Phil. I love the Chicago White Sox.” “You did very well in tryouts and were hard for me to select because other teams wanted you.” “When do we start, Coach?” “We will have a team meeting tomorrow evening at my house when I will hand out the uniforms and schedules." “When do we begin practice?” Tuesday at the Morgan Park Military Academy practice field from 4:00 p.m. until dark.” “I live close and so does Phil. We’ll be there early.” “You, Phil, and Deeks can help me pass out the equipment.” Unfortunately, many kids never got a coaches’ call because the selection process made it difficult for everyone to qualify. I couldn’t wait to get started in my favorite sport. To wear a uniform in Chicago that said you played for the “White Sox” made me feel really special. Our team had kids on it from 9 to 12. Our coach selected me as his starting pitcher to open the season and Phil as the next pitcher in rotation. Phil threw a fast ball that really popped in the catcher’s glove. My catcher said I threw a faster ball but Phil’s pitch hit his catcher’s mitt harder. The coach explained “some players threw a ‘heavy ball.’" The ball weighed the same, but the way Phil threw it made it pop harder. A knowledgeable baseball coach who joined us for a practice said, “Pitchers who threw a baseball that dropped felt harder to the catcher than balls thrown by pitchers who used a back spin. The later kind of ball always seemed lighter.” My highlights for the twenty game season included a three to nothing shutout I pitched against the best team in the league, the Dodges. I hit a double to drive in the winning runs in the Palos Heights game in front of my Uncle Paul who lived there. Our coach called me in from center field as a relief pitcher to close out an 8-7 victory and I struck out the side in the last inning. Phil started the game, but somehow they scored 7 runs and he started tiring. Against the Dodges in the last game we played, I hit a home run that went down the left field line over the fence. Before that game the Dodges coach assisted me in pre-game batting practice. He thought he could help me hit the ball farther even though I hit sharp line drives. He told me to keep my right elbow high, which squared away my swing giving me more power. He impressed me with his unselfish sportsmanship and knowledge. Although he wanted his team to win, he helped other kids like me who loved baseball rather than only teach his team to win. At the end of the season the coaches selected me for the All Star Team as their second baseman and lead-off hitter. In the first game I hit two singles and a double in four at bats. The next game we lost 5-4 and were eliminated from the tournament. The winning run scored on a pop up hit to short center field that I raced out to try to catch as the center fielder ran in. He stopped thinking I could make an over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball was over my head and dropped at his feet. Two runs scored on that fluke single. The loss disappointed us as we knew we had a great team. Any team can beat you on an odd play in baseball.

Returning to a Sacred Island

    (Click on images to expand) An American teenager came to Japan in 1955 when his father was stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base. The boy lived with his family in Kamakura near a beach and a sacred volcanic island known as Enoshima. The youth explored the island with his Japanese friend Yoshio who was three years older, played ping pong with the boy, and gave him a lesson in Judo.                       They jumped from rock to rock while the surf crashed sending refreshing salt water ocean spray on them during a hot summer day. They noticed crabs and small fish in pristine tidal pools with snow-peaked Fujiyama piercing the blue sky in the background. A range of mountains flanked the active volcano that occasionally sent a plume of curling grey smoke skyward that dissipated in the gentle breeze.                                                                                                                     Giant Tombe hawks circled overhead squawking and diving as the surf crashed into caves under high sea cliffs covered with green foliage. Running through verdant pathways the youth found a shrine to Benzaiten playing a flute. The nude female Sea Goddess was a milk-white statue with half-crossed legs. Yoshio told the boy, “Ancient shoguns and the public prayed to Benzaiten for success. They revered Enoshima as a sacred place.” After ten years the teenager returned as a naval officer on a ship resting from a six-month assignment at Cam Ranh Bay during the Vietnam conflict. He reunited with his Japanese friend and they decided to take another hike to Enoshima to reminisce. Two modern bridges carried automobiles, trucks, and tour buses onto a two way road that prevented them from enjoying jumping over the rocks, seeing the tide pools, and feeling the ocean spray on their faces.                    At least they saw waves crash on the rocks and heard the sound of the surf as it mingled with the shore. There were no crabs or fish in the tide pools that had been inundated with dirt from the excavation creating the bridges, roadway, and souvenir shops that dotted the way. Escalators snaked to a slick modern observation tower while shrill pop music wafted across the island from the multitude of restaurants and shops constructed in the recent past. Horn honking replaced the natural sounds that had refreshed him on his first visit. Exhaust fumes choked him when in the past only ocean spray and sunlight danced on the rocks and natural pathways of the revered island.  Neither the magnificent hawks nor Mount Fuji were visible through the smog. His heart sunk and he was deeply saddened by what some called, “Progress.”    

Enoshima Island Refuge

Leaping rocks over incoming tide

I swerved the splashing ocean

Exploring the pristine island at fifteen

Crabs and fish overflowed tidal pools

Fujiyama’s snow peaked cone pierced blue sky

Giant Tombe hawks squawked and dove

 Surf pounded caves under high sea cliffs

Hiking through verdant pathways

The shrine of Benzaiten playing lute appeared

Nude, milk-white, half-crossed legged

Sea Goddess revealed graphic genitals.

Shoguns and public prayed to her for success

Ancient Enoshima was sacred

In one decade cars drove on two bridges

Horns honked and exhaust fumes choked

Escalators snaked to slick viewing tower

Shrill souvenir shops thrived

Pop music blared and tobacco smoke wafted

At the rapture of the sanctuary's subtle secret

 Nature is resilient

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A Voyage to Japan in 1955

Dad returned to Morgan Park at Christmas and said, “Boys, I have an opportunity to be transferred to Japan if I were married. How would you like it if I married Nicky, we go to Japan, and you attend an American high school there?” He had introduced us to her while we were in Chevy Chase. She had two children named Valerie Lee and Paige from an earlier marriage. We had no objection but found it humorous that now the family would have two Valerie Laverys. Valerie Lee was one grade behind me, had dark hair, a lovely smile, and big breasts. Paige was an attractive strawberry blonde with freckles, had a wonderful soprano voice, and enjoyed a jovial disposition. (click on pictures to expand) Losing out on playing quarterback as co-captain of the Frosh-Soph Football team and center on the basketball team bothered me, but Dad made going to Japan sound like an adventure, a learning experience, and a new marriage for him. No woman would ever replace my dear mother or her parents. We would call her Nicky, not Mom. We left for a fourteen day cruise on a Military Sea Transportation Service ship, USS General George M. Randall (AP-115), from San Francisco to Yokohama. Chip and I shared a small stateroom and played chess daily with an elderly passenger who always smoked a pipe. He knew crafty openings and strategies he shared after demolishing our pieces that fell like dominos to his onslaught. Soon we caught on and became proficient against most comers but not our mentor. A Japanese woman taught Japanese language and culture every day: “My class will help prepare you for the culture-shock awaiting you.” Learning vocabulary, pronunciation, numbers, food, Samurai history, salutations, common phrases, and customs made me look forward to experiencing Japan as an exciting adventure. The ship required us to put Chip’s white Chihuahua, Tico, in a crate on the forecastle exposed to the weather. We visited him daily to feed him, took him out for exercise, and showed him love. His tail wagged excitement every time we approached. When a tune from a xylophone sounded on the loud speaker, the waiters served excellent eight course meals three times a day. Nicky, a former high school principal, was an expert on history, languages and a purist on table manners. When she said, “You eat like a farmer,” she embarrassed me after everybody laughed. Offended, I disliked her from the start, but soon learned she was brilliant and had a great heart. We anchored in Honolulu for one day to drop off and pick up passengers and left the next morning. The Randall ploughed through the Pacific Ocean smoothly until we changed course for Yokohama on the tenth day when we encountered a series of waves from the north that made the voyage far rougher. Many people suffered from seasickness. The smell of vomit permeated the stateroom area. Waiters counseled, “Suck on a lemon, eat crackers, don’t drink many beverages, go out in the fresh air, and concentrate on the horizon.” None of us got motion sickness by following this advice.             We entered the "realm of the Dragon" when we crossed the 180 th meridian and lost a day. In accordance with a long Navy tradition, a person who played King Neptune conducted rites of initiation for first timers, known as “pollywogs.” The veteran “shellbacks” selected a large Hawaiian messman as king who sat on a throne wearing a crown of artificial seaweed holding a three-pronged trident. Covered in a blue and green robe with dolphin jumping from waves, he was surrounded by other messmen as his court had their faces smeared with paint like Indians. All had to bow to the King and crawl on the deck past the court who lightly beat us with palm fronds. At the end of the line we entered a room where we received a certificate acknowledging our status as shellbacks and celebrated with cakes, cookies, soft drinks, and ice cream.   Our arrival at Yokohama ended the monotonous rocking and rolling we had endured. Magnificent Mt. Fuji welcomed us in the background, its perfect cone covered with snow shot up into the blue sky. With my suitcase in hand on mother earth, still feeling the ship’s motion like walking in a bowl full of Jell-O, my mind pondered what adventures would await me in a country that was once our mortal enemy?

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A Class Visit to the Stockyard

                                                                       

One of my classmates in the sixth grade at Clissold elementary School in Morgan Park, Illinois named Nathan Swift, had a father who owned one of the largest meat packing companies, known as Swift & Company, in downtown Chicago. His father arranged for us to take a bus to visit his Stock Yards where they packed beef and pork  for distribution.                      

We arrived at the beef portion of the stockyards that had a rank odor that permeated me so badly I could hardly stand it. The guide took us to a place where we watched the workers coax the cattle to move down a series of fences to a narrow opening with a gate. A man opened the gate as one large specimen arrived and the workers pushed him to another area. A man wearing a large black rubber apron holding a large club smacked each unsuspecting cattle on the head as they approached. This caused the animal to wail an awful sound of pain, then reel and fall in a heap. They quickly threw ropes around the wounded beast and a truck dragged the stunned brute to an area out of our sight in a warehouse. There they sliced the carcass for meat to put in a freezer. This process was bloody, disgusting, smelly, and cruel.

                                                                          

After an hour our guide directed us to another part of the stockyards where they made pigs ready for market. At this location, I saw hundreds of large pigs that squealed and snorted in a huge pen surrounded by a wooden fence. At a signal, a gate opened and one by one they herded them to walk toward an escalator that rose gradually from the ground to a spot outside a large enclosed building. As the first pig reached a certain spot on the escalator, some mechanism caught the pig’s feet and hoisted the animal in the air. The pig’s head faced down and chains held up his feet on a moving line that went up to the entrance of the large building next to this device.

After each pig disappeared another came behind after the device hoisted that pig up about twenty feet behind the first one. The guide told us, “Go into the building to see how we prepare the pigs for market.” We walked into this building and noticed a large vat with steam coming from its top. A large pig dangled above this vat on the line upside down. Then automatically the hoist released the pig that descended into a vat of boiling water. When the pig hit the scalding liquid, it gave out a blood-curdling squeal. One child asked, “What just happened to the pig?”

       

The guide said, “We are making the pig ready for cutting into various pork meals like bacon, hot dogs, pork loin, and sausage that you and your family can find in the market.” I thought the building was a torture chamber and felt sorry for the pigs. The entire procedure revolted me. The scene, the horrible smells, the noise of torture, pain, and death, nauseated me so much I wanted to leave as soon as possible from the nightmare. It was worse than I could ever have imagined. Why would any teacher allow us to watch such gross abuse of these animals? Guessing these tours were how Swift & Company tried to market its products to the public, I couldn’t wait to get on the bus, return to school, and leave the bloody scene of torture and death. The images I had seen were hard to remove from my mind on the bus, at home, and especially in bed trying to sleep.

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