This is part two in a series that grows every time someone from Tarrant likes, shares, or comments on Facebook. Too many memories. Here’s part one.
Bo Nelson Field was more than a baseball park. It, like just about all of the sporting venues in town, was in the middle of a community. We walked or biked to games, waving at neighbors, and laughing with friends. Cities and parks like to build sports “complexes” now, with parking lots meandering for miles and miles but not one sidewalk.
My dad coached my pee-wee team (7/8 year-old, sponsored by Burger King) then, during my two seasons in the Mustang league, he hopped up to the Bronco division (11/12 year-olds) to coach my brother’s teams (sponsored by Tarrant Police Department).
My preferred mode of transportation TO Bo Nelson Field was my bike. We lived maybe 1/2 mile from the park and, once I reached the ripe old age of nine, my parents let me ride my bike to the park sans supervision. My brother and I never played on the same day so, as soon as my coach dropped me off at my house after practice (coaches in Tarrant were also obligated to transport kids home, as I recall, a fact that may have played in to the player draft at some point), I’d hop on my bike and make the 1/2 mile ride down Etowah Street to watch his game. Or chase foul balls. Or play cupball with Mark Self.
To reach the baseball park, I rode my bike down Etowah Street which, in fairness, was no Linthicum Street, but its hill still required you to time the light at the intersection of East Lake Boulevard in order to achieve maximum speed as you approached the park. Just beyond the non-traditional intersection (you had to turn left and then back to the right to stay straight on Etowah Street – Google map it) was a grass hill with a well-worn dirt path that led straight to the right field foul pole. The hill is probably 12 feet high, but it seemed 50 feet high in 1980.
From the top of the hill you could see the traffic light at the bottom of the hill. Waiting through a green light, I would sit on my bike – just down from the top of the hill on Etowah Street – near the big, giant, aged but majestic house on the corner at Ford Avenue. The people who lived in that house could sit on their porch and look down on the action at Bo Nelson Field. “We could watch every game and never leave the house” I always thought before remembering that, if I never left the house, I wouldn’t be sitting there looking at the traffic light at the bottom of the hill.
I sat there on my bike, no helmet, and waited for the light at the bottom of the hill to turn red. Once it turned red, I started counting…0ne Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and at fifteen Mississippi I went. Pedaling with all I had, I rolled faster and faster down the hill toward the reddest red light in town.
It occurs to me, as I sit here typing at 5:00AM, that 9-year-old boys don’t make the best decisions.
I pedaled and pedaled, and about two houses from the intersection, the light facing me would turn green. Through the intersection, I bunny-hopped the curb (hopefully) and raced down the dirt path on the 50 foot hill, straight toward the right field foul pole. Once on flat ground again, I had to peel off to the left and slide to a stop before I hit the fence or, worse, a parked car.
One night, I found my mom in the bleachers and checked-in with her after my glorious arrival. She wasn’t in a very talkative mood and she just told me to look out at left field.
“Who’s playing left field?”
“Nobody. Look beyond left field”, she answered.
There, on the outside of the left field fence, next to the foul pole, stood my dad. Coach Erwin.
I rode my bike out to the 183 sign and said hello.
“Hey”, he responded.
We watched a couple of pitches through the chain link fence.
“Uh, whatcha doing out here?” I finally asked him.
“I got ejected! Well, one of my players got ejected, and I talked Ross in to tossing me out instead and letting the kid stay in the game.”
Seems one of dad’s players had a habit of slinging his bat after he hit the ball. Following a warning – the delivery and receipt of which seems to still be in dispute – the player slung his bat again in his next at bat and was ejected. Dad argued that there was no prior warning and there was a compromise, a compromise that allowed my dad and I got to watch his team play Cook’s Pest Control through the left field fence.
That was back when reasonableness was still prevalent, and substituting the ejection of a player with that of his coach made sense in youth sports. Ross and Stump and the rest of the umpires in Tarrant PONY Baseball were nothing if not reasonable.
That’s two posts about Bo Nelson Field and I haven’t even stepped on the field yet.