“Little League baseball is a good thing because it keeps the parents off the street!”- Yogi Berra.
On a night while catching my battery mate Jack Lindley a foul tip caught my non-catcher’s mitt-hand. It hurt. It had hurt on many occasions just that way. Pain. A few moments of numbness. Then back behind the plate for a Jack Lindley fastball.
After the game the pain continued. There was swelling. This time it didn’t stop. A trip to the ER and it was confirmed. A broken bone on my throwing hand. A cast. No baseball for 4-6 weeks. I cried at the hospital. I did not cry from the pain.
All-Star tryouts were in less than two weeks. I was pretty much a lock to make the team. I had just been told I would not be allowed to play for the Jeffersonville Senior League All Stars in my final year of Little League. I was 15. The most important thing in the world to me at 15 was baseball.
In 1971 a bunch of young men started their quest. The newspaper had almost a full page scouting the teams and players. The local field was very strong and loaded with talent. The last team touted received barely more than a paragraph as if to note a very overmatched and less talented team from Jeffersonville was also in the field.
A funny thing happened along the way. We won the first game in an upset. Another upset occurred. When the smoke had cleared the little engine that couldn’t did. The Jeffersonville All-Stars had won the sectional.
Jack Lindley was the undisputed star of the team. There was an array of very solid role players. Every great team has some very good role players.
Only one home run was hit during the magical ride that year all the way to the World Series. Needless to say, it was Jack Lindley hitting it at home on our home field and it was a game-winner.
During one stretch of games the team played perfect defense by not committing an error for 27 consecutive scoreless innings. Jack and Tony Smith pitched almost flawlessly. Lindley whom I had caught in season play for much of the previous five years had speed and an array of pitches with perfect control. I used to joke that Tony Smith had the world’s slowest curve ball and I could swing at it three times before it reached the plate.
The upsets just kept coming. The winning scores were always 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. This team just won. We won playing hard. Often times the games might have been ugly to watch for anyone except the busloads of fans from Jeffersonville who supported them loyally. Very few flashy stretches. Coaches Ed “Mr. Boat” Schuler and Keith “Sparky” Groth were masters at not only teaching baseball skills but also instilling confidence. This team did not like to lose.
The opening night of the World Series which at that time was held in Gary, Indiana was so magical it seemed more like a dream at the time than reality. Teams from all over the world were lined up on the field. The baseball facility was simply a miniature version of a big league ball park. The crowds were huge, raucous, loud, and amazing. We were the Indiana State Champions playing for a world title in Indiana. Jeffersonville’s team was indisputably the majority of the crowd’s favorite.
In 1971 there was no internet. No social media platforms. Communication was archaic by today’s standards. Young boys from Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1971 did not routinely play ping pong or trade cap pins with kids from Canada, Mexico, Germany or Puerto Rico.
The first night there we had a ping pong tournament with every team having two players enter. The competition was fierce. The fellowship and camaraderie were amazing even between players who spoke different languages. There was a sense that the young boys from Jeffersonville were not the only team that was kind of having a once-in-a-lifetime summer.
That next day after I was diagnosed with a broken right hand. My dad and I were talking. I was devastated. I was in tears. I could not believe I could not play in the All-Star game in my final year of Little League. Dad looked at me and asked, “How bad do you want to play?” My impassioned and desperate plea, “Dad, I want to play more than anything in the world!”
My dad had been my coach for many years. He was the one to teach me fundamental skills by hitting me thousands of grounders in the front yard. We had shared all the highs of winning championships and the devastation of losing the championship game. The bonding we had in Little League baseball was about as good as it gets between a father and son. My dad loved Little League baseball every bit as much as I did.
Dad disappeared inside the house and came out with a large pair of scissors. He proceeded to cut the hard part of the cast away and only left the soft wrapping that would still hold two of my fingers together. We then tested things out playing pitch-and-catch and then him hitting me grounders.
The story would unfold for my dad and me over the next couple months. His love for me and the game allowed us to share a magic carpet ride together. It was my crowning achievement in baseball. It was a payback for him hitting balls for hours after a hard day’s work in a power plant and, depending upon the shift at the time, often with very little or no sleep as I would beg him for just a few more.
I can’t say for sure that he was the proudest dad in the stands during the incredible All-Star run of 1971. I will say for sure that he was at a minimum tied for the honor.
The only person from that time not happy with dad’s decision was the orthopedic doctor that asked me to leave the room and I overheard my dad being chastised for risking the use of my hand and causing permanent damage to it. As he came away from a rather robust rear-end chewing, he flashed that million-dollar smile on the way out the door and simply said, “Let’s get a root beer!”
The hand is fine. I will forever be a state champion.
Writer’s note- The 1971 Jeffersonville Indiana State Champion All-Star team will he holding a 50-year reunion on Sept. 11 at Hoopster’s on 10th Street. All parents, fans, friends, and anyone else who wants to celebrate are invited to stop by that day.