With the Little League World Series closing out this weekend, our writers are sharing some memories of playing youth baseball and softball.
In Port Richmond, you were either a Leprechaun or a Tiger.
I don’t know if that’s changed, since I haven’t lived there in 17 years, but growing up – at least from my 7-year-old-child’s memory – that was the deal. If you were a Port Richmond Leprechaun you associated with other Leprechauns. And you didn’t like the Tigers, those snotty, probably slightly more middle-class kids with snazzy uniforms that they changed into in their houses with the porches. We Leprechauns had hand-me-downs, uniforms made in the early 1980s and lived in the crummy row homes on Belgrade, Gaul and Almond. We were weird looking, Irish, out of shape and ratty. That’s how we liked it. That’s who we were.
I was very truly a Leprechaun. My parents helped run the organization for a few years, so we were at the carnival every summer at Cohocksink, which let’s be honest, was just Cohox. I spent much of my formative years playing at Cohox – tee-ball and baseball in the summer, maybe a season of soccer, watching my brother play football and street hockey, hitting the pool (though we preferred Monkiewicz’s pool) in the sweltering heat, and once a quarter, crying at the dance since girls thought I was wimpy and unattractive. Like a Leprechaun. Sometimes I even took a couple golf clubs out on the field and chipped the ball around a bit. I lived at Cohox. The Leprechauns had one corner of the field, and down the street a bit were the Tigers. Ugh, the Tigers.
Stuff happened that led our family out of the Leprechauns and into free agency (stuff whose details are pretty foggy). I don’t remember my brothers biting the bullet, but I needed more baseball. I wanted real competition against squads like the Tabor Rams and the Holy Terrors. So I caved. We joined the Tigers. I played for the enemy.
But because I was a newbie I was placed on the B-team, not the A-team with all the other snotty neighborhood kids with the last name Cole or Quinn (everyone in Port Richmond was named Cole or Quinn). As I recall we had two co-coaches, a father and son, and the son was blind. They were good coaches, personable and loose, and they taught me a little about the game. On the B-team I stood out, earning the team’s all-star berth as a third baseman thanks to my exceptional fielding and plate discipline (I walked a lot). In the city all-star game I started at third; a kid hit a one-hopping rocket down the line – I dove and snared it, causing the parents in the stands to gasp. I rolled to my knees and fired a direct laser to first. Out. Everyone was stunned. “Who’s that kid?” the parents asked. Play of my life.
The next year I graduated to an older group and made the all-star team again, this time off the bench as a second baseman and catcher. I didn’t catch often; it showed, about 10 pitches in my pitcher threw a low fastball that jammed my thumb up. A couple pitches later another low pitch bounced at my crotch. For some reason I wasn’t wearing a cup. I had to leave the game. I crouched in pain for about an hour.
That was the last time I ever played organized ball. I was heading into high school and half-heartedly tried out for the junior varsity team, but my heart wasn’t in it, I wasn’t in shape and all the kids were about a foot taller than me. I stopped growing by eighth grade; forever I’ve been 5’7″, always looking up at the athletes, always giving myself another excuse to do something else. Whatever, those kids must’ve been Tigers in a previous life.
During my time with the B-team I still remember telling one of my coaches, the blind son, “You’ll hear my name one day. Just wait.”
Well, he still could. Not at a ballpark though. Those dreams died with my body’s ability to grow up.