This is part one of a series that I may never finish.
We practiced at “the holler” as more folks than not called it. I was probably 20-years-old before I realized we were really saying “the hollow”. We practiced there on occasion, but it wasn’t great for infield practice because of all the rocks atop the even harder red earth below. Our preferred location to practice was the field between the high school and Boyles Baptist Church. It had its share of rocks also – which any coach worth his weight in salt will tell you helps an infielder develop quicker hands and an understanding that, yes, it hurts when a ball bounces off a rock and hits your mouth, but it only hurts for a little bit – but the high school field also had a backstop, so my dad didn’t have to chase wild throws too far. We didn’t have assigned practice times or locations, so my dad, who worked nights and coached our teams, would get to the field everyday around 2:30 to claim the field. Kids would walk to practice after school, then their parents would pick them up after work. I think the holler is still there, but the field between Boyles Baptist and the high school is some apartment/condo building now.
Any time during the spring of 1978 and 1983, if we weren’t practicing baseball, you could find me at the temple of Tarrant PONY Baseball, Bo Nelson Field. Named for one of the founders of youth sports in our town, Mr. W. P. “Bo” Nelson, it was more than a baseball field, it was my second home. My brother and I never played in the same age group, so our games were never on the same days. I’d play Monday and Thursday and he’d play Tuesday and Friday. Unless there was a makeup game, we didn’t play on weekends, and we never played on Wednesday.
After every foul ball, the PA announcer – who was usually Ricky Parker – would announce that you could “return that ball to the concession stand for a free Coke!” Kids darted from every where for a free Coke in an 8-ounce waxed paper cup. They don’t use those cups any more, but they should. You could put the cup on the barrel end of your bat and slam your bat straight down on the concrete, creating a firecracker like “POP”. It was a beautiful sound. Those cups also made the best cupballs, and there was always a cupball game happening somewhere at Bo Nelson Field.
By midseason, park rats like me knew which kids were homerun hitters and which ones were foul ball hitters. You learned to distinguish the sound of a foul ball from a ball hit fair. I don’t know if “number of balls batted foul” is a stat that they keep up with in the major leagues, but we kept up with it at Bo Nelson Field. “He’s batting .182 this year and averaging 1.2 foul balls per at-bat. I’ve gotten 7 free cokes off this guy this year!”
I got my fair share of free cokes – known as “pop” to some of you, “soda” to others, but I’ll really never finish is I start chasing that rabbit. My drink of choice was actually called a “suicide”. It was a little bit of every flavor of coke they had in the concession stand. I preferred mine with more grape soda than any other flavor, and I liked to have the grape soda on top. I don’t know if you can order those anymore.
I never wanted a free Coke bad enough to run across the street without stopping to look for cars, though, and the kids who really racked up were the ones who trusted that any cars traveling on Wharton Avenue or Etowah Street would stop for them. I suspect that if I ever ran across the street without looking, my mom would meet me at the concession stand and either pour out my free Coke or take the ball from me and give it to one of the Brannons.
I’m out of time today. I didn’t even get to Astro Pops, Chico Stix, or 25-cent packs of baseball cards. I warned you that I may never finish this.
Have a great day!