“No one wants to go down to Tucson in the summer. . .” It‟s the opening salvo in MelTellis‟ song “Send Me Down To Tucson.” The song is based on a truth though it is a country fablememorialized. It is Hotter-than-Hades in Tucson in the summertime. Surely, on that fact,consensus prevails. I can feel the sun beating on the back of my neck for each summer I‟ve lived here; likean amalgamation of sunburns. In modern times, most Tucson folks avoid the heat of day. Theylive in air conditioned homes, work in air conditioned offices, and migrate from one to the other inair conditioned cars. This proposition does not hold true for youngsters. Girls and boys, once released for thesummer from school yard prisons find beauty in heat; a freedom quenching thirsts. I proved to beno different in summer 1962. It was one of the two summers I played little league. Not just for anylittle league team, but for Tucson Federal Savings. I know, it sounds like we were little leaguechampions of the universe. We were not. We were just one of several teams in the Frontier LittleLeague; a collection of neighborhood boys of no significance. Allow me to introduce myself before we migrate too far down an anonymous road. Myname is Ritchie Jackson. While not known as such in 1962, my high school and college chumscrowned me “Itchie Ritchie Jackson.” They claimed I was always “itchin‟” for trouble. I still wearthat moniker these days, now transcending the year 2011. Today, I am an educated sort; Doctor of Philosophy in something or another. Exactlywhat matters not for purposes of telling this story; just know I‟m a philosophizing sort. I always liketo recount stories in my life endowed with a certain sense of ethics. That‟s what I am about to donow. But, here‟s the catch: You, the reader, have to figure out the ethics underpinning this story.However, I will send you on your way with a clue in hand. 2
If you knew Itchie Ritchie like I know Itchie Ritchie, you‟d probably conclude the ethicslesson has something to do with a woman. You‟d be right. However, the lesson in loving thiswoman comes by recounting a little league story occurring in my youth some fifteen years beforeshe was born. What a little league story has to do with loving her is an odyssey in the mythologicaltradition of the Great Greek Philosophers. With clue in hand, enjoy the story and argue about itsmetaphorical implications. Now, for the record, let‟s return to summer 1962, the Tucson-based Frontier LittleLeague, and my team, Tucson Federal Savings. Remember, it‟s hotter than hell in Tucson in thesummertime; easy to get sunburnt. Miraculously, I graduated sixth grade from John B. Wright Elementary Schoolsomewhere between end of May and beginning of June 1962. As a result, I was on my way toseventh grade at Doolen Junior High. The summer intervened and that meant little league. Allboys my age in the neighborhood were signing up to play little league that summer. I wasn‟t aboutto be left behind, so I enlisted as well. It seemed to be a huge operation. The entire Frontier Little League played at CatalinaHigh School, not too far from the Jackson family headquarters operated by my then single mother.The first day of the season, the entire league congregated on one of the school‟s athletic fields. Itseemed there was an ocean of guys between 8 and 12 years old, all ready to play ball. The little league gods found it their province to ordain my presence on the TucsonFederal Savings team. Our uniforms were light gray with yellow lettering spelling out TucsonFederal Savings across the chest. We donned yellow baseball caps. I was awarded mine with theadvisory I could keep the ball cap. But, at season‟s end, I would have to return the uniform. 3
We broke out into our teams and gathered around our head coach. He was a know-it-all(my present day reflective characterization) by the name of Monty Carlson. Monty went throughvarious exercises to determine everyone‟s relevant skill set. My teammates tried out for pitcher or outfielder; or aspired to play first base, secondbase, third base, or short stop. But, no one in particular wanted to be the catcher. As fate wouldhave it and since my skill set failed to qualify me for any other position, the odd job of being theteam catcher befell my yet-to-be-developed philosophical ass. That is, I was cast by fate to playbehind the plate as the Tucson Federal Savings little league catcher during summer 1962. There are a few unique aspects in being the team catcher. First, your gear is differentthan every other position. Sure, the first base guy had a different fielding glove than other infieldand outfield positions; but that‟s not as special as all the stuff I had to wear to get the job done.Like the first baseman, my glove was also different than all the other infielders and outfielders. Itwas round with a wide catching area in the middle. The catcher is the only player on the field to wear protective equipment. Back in thosedays, the catcher‟s mask was simply a padded steel grate attached to your face with two or threenylon straps. To be appropriately cool, the reigning fashion statement handed down from the BigLeagues involved the catcher wearing his ball cap backwards with its bill pointing more down thanback. Of course, an important part of a catcher‟s style is determined by his panache in offingthat mask, either to throw out a devious base runner or to call off all oncomers to catch theperiodic pop-fly. The fling of the mask is critical. The aspiring catcher‟s declaration he willsomeday be celebrated at Cooperstown is measured by the authority by which that mask hits thedirt and raises a cloud of dust. 4
Catchers wear shin guards. Shin guards are not worn just behind the plate. Whenstanding in the next-at-bat circle along the baseline, the prepared catcher will have already donnedhis shin guards—just in case two outs become three. After all, fastening those shin guards takes aninordinate amount of time and the catcher does not want to become persona non grata out ofholding up the game‟s progress. The last visible form of protection worn by the catcher is his chest protector. The ribbedcover protects shoulders, chest and abdomen. The protector does allow the catcher‟s arms to wieldfreely; enabling that rocket throw to second base. The key word is “enabling.” But, I would be remiss in this tale of ethics if I didn‟t share the catcher‟s hidden secrets.On the first day our team met, Coach Carlson said, “All right „fellas,‟ gather round. The league hasprovided your uniform and ball cap. However, league regulations require each player to wear ajock strap; an athletic supporter. You have to buy it.” Giggles could be heard everywhere. “What‟s a jock strap?” I wondered to nobody but yours truly. It‟s one of those thingsdefining an emerging manhood I came to find out. Then coach turned to me and broadcasted for my teammates‟ benefit, “Jackson, leaguerules require catchers wear a cup, too.” “What‟s a cup? And, how does it relate to a jock strap?” My quiet investigation ensued. In the next day or so, my Mother took me to a sporting goods store. If you thinkshopping for a jock strap and a cup with your Mother was a 1962 rage, you‟re wrong! So, into thestore Mother and I ventured. 5
This story now accounts for my first encounter with an athletic supporter. Sure, I waslike any other soon-to-be 12 year old. I was becoming increasingly curious about my manhood andall its attendant apparatuses. But, it was during this shopping excursion I discovered just howimportant my manhood and its buddies must be. This wasn‟t an option; the goddamned FrontierLittle League declared by regulation that my package was so important it had to be protected. It got worse. My Mother wasn‟t really all that familiar with a cup. She was just informedconcerning the incremental requirement catcher‟s be protected by the unknown device. I couldhear coach‟s voice again, “Jackson, league rules require catches wear a cup, too.” Mother said, “Let‟s get an assistant, Honey.” That‟s all I needed: assistance from someone to help me with protecting my manhoodand friends. Mother‟s preference prevailed. The assistant arrived. He was probably 5 to 7 yearsolder than me. He looked me over and turned to my Mother enquiring, “Yes Ma‟am, may I helpyou?” “Yes, please. My son is a little league catcher and is required to wear a cup while playingbaseball.” Mother said without a clue as to my crushing embarrassment. Then the asshole started looking at the location of my manhood. “I think I know whatsize he needs,” the brilliant clerk replied. He walked a few feet down the aisle and reached up and pulled down a smallish box. Ofall things, he opened the box and pulled this grey hard plastic thing out; it had a ring of whiterubber tracing its edges. I started looking around the store to make sure no one else was watchingthis debacle. “You want to try this on little fellow?” He asked. “No. It looks all right to me. It „ought ta‟ fit.” I desperately proclaimed in my hurry toget to the checkout and the hell out of there. 6
However, the store clerk had nothing to do with my desperation. He turned to Motherand advised, “This requires a special athletic supporter, Ma‟am.” I glanced down at my clothedmanhood as if to cuss out its now well known importance. The ordeal wasn‟t about to get over withany time soon. Fortunately, the clerk took only another step forward and looked at an array of differentboxes. He again looked at me; but, not so much at the location of my manhood this time. “Thislooks like it will work,” he said as he took a particular box off the shelf. Again, against all myembarrassment, he opened the box and this dangling conflagration of white material made itsappearance; one for anyone up and down the aisle to witness. I could immediately understand the appropriateness of the term “strap” in labeling thecontraption; there were two dancing in symmetry around a mound of material with snaps on it.Announcing this particular form of athletic supporter was uniquely fashioned for holding the cup;the clerk then took the rubber rimmed plastic device and inserted it into the mound of whitematerial and fastened the snaps while announcing in too loud a voice toward my direction, “See,you put the cup in here and fasten these snaps. Then you put it on.” The bastard looked towardmy manhood again. If I was just a wee bit bigger I would‟ve punched the nosy asshole. Mother then took both items and said, “Let‟s go.” She paid the bill and we left. The next time the Tucson Federal Savings team met for practice, Coach Carlson asked,“Everyone get their jock straps? Got „em on? Jackson, you wearin‟ that cup?” Fortunately, thecrowded affirmative declaration drowned out the shaking of my head in the same direction. 7
From that day on, Ritchie Jackson, the Tucson Federal Savings 1962 catcher, had hismanhood and friends protected by some inventor‟s license. I never came to a practice or gamewithout it. In between such events, Mother made me wash the cupholder myself; saying, “Ritchie,you have to learn to take care of your own things.” We‟ll just assume she was referring to keepingthe strap clean. Summer 1962 seemed unending both in duration and heat. On those rare game dayswhere the outcome was in our favor, Coach Carlson took the entire team to the local Tastee Freezefor an ice cream cone. Anyone hitting a home run got a double. But, as I say, it didn‟t seem to befated by the little league gods and goddesses that 1962 would be my team‟s banner year. The best team in the league was Dave‟s Towing. Everyone knew the reason for theirunrivaled success. The team‟s star pitcher was a purported 12 year old who looked like he was 18.We‟d played Dave‟s Towing a couple of times before the season wound down to a merciful finish.Each time, Tucson Federal Savings got trounced. No one could hit that pitcher. He was so big; he dwarfed the size of the baseballdiamond. His reached closed the distance to the plate. I‟d swear there was only a three footdistance between his hand releasing the speeding fastball and home plate. “Who could swing fastenough to hit it?” was the team‟s collective lament. This pitching behemoth was an annoyance. Heseemed to unilaterally ruin everyone‟s summer. Unfortunately for Tucson Federal Savings, the last game of the season had us playingDave‟s Towing. Once again we were doomed to face the behemoth and his three foot fastball. You have to understand one thing about Ritchie Jackson‟s little league career: It wascompletely lackluster. I was the worst hitter on the team and always batted in the ninth position.The last game of the season brokered no surprise: “Jackson,” Coach Carlson announced, 8“Catcher, batting ninth.”
As fate would have it, Tucson Federal Savings was losing handily to Dave‟s Towing in itslast little league game of the season. Mercifully, the last inning arrived with two outs alreadyregistered for completion. Not so mercifully, yours truly, Ritchie Jackson, the Tucson FederalSavings 1962 catcher had to come to the plate for what was sure to be the last at-bat of the season.You guessed it; my manhood protector naturally came along. The world closed in; mostly due to the behemoth‟s size. It was the behemoth, hisbrother, Dave‟s Towing‟s catcher, the umpire, and me. The batter‟s box was already well worn forthe day. I had my head protecting batter‟s helmet on and, for once, I was glad that damned plasticthing with its rimmed rubber padding was secure between my legs. It seemed the 29 inch baseball bat shrunk to the size of a matchstick compared to thebehemoth‟s stature. Everyone assumed a readiness I did not. It‟s like a train wreck coming at youin slow motion: You can‟t stop it, you can only endure it. The behemoth affected his incomplete wind-up and threw his right hand at me like heintended to punch me in the jaw. All of a sudden, a little white sphere appeared and instantly madea loud snapping sound as it met the brother‟s mitt. The result was obvious, “Steeeeeerike One!”bellowed the umpire for the crowd‟s uproarious pleasure. I was glad the first strike was over; relief began to sink in as I realized the summer andthis ordeal were both just about over. The behemoth was relentless. The asshole even sported aheavy beard. “Twelve years old my ass,” the empirical evidence concluded. The half wind-up ensued. The same procedure followed. The fist heading toward myface let go the little sphere at the last. I blinked. Pow! “Steeeeeeerike Two! The count is now „Ohand Two‟,” announced the umpire for the crowd‟s spirituous participation. 9
“Only one more of those to go,” I relieved. The behemoth‟s catching brother then gotinto the act. Ordinarily, all cup-wearing catchers would exhibit informal support for similarly cladbrethren. However, the behemoth‟s brother had a mouth that rivaled his pitching brother‟s stature.I turned to look him in the eye when he said, “Hey, buddy!” He condescended to me, “he puts itin the same place every time. You still can‟t hit it.” I looked at the contrails still lingering from the last two fastballs and sized up the spot. Itook my 29 inch matchstick and swirled those contrails to practice the location. My musclememory satisfied, I perched the bat up toward my right shoulder ready for the behemoth‟s finalassault. By now, the half wind-up was sure to be a registered trademark. The behemothaccordingly forecasted hell‟s fury arriving. His right fist hurling toward my face opened once again;the blurring baseball appeared a split second before my swing began. Damn it all, Ritchie Jacksonwasn‟t going down without a fight. I swung through those contrails preceding. There was a different noise this time: Whack! I felt a surging thud in my hands as myarms swung through the devil‟s mandate. I watched the little white sphere take off for thestratosphere. All right, maybe something short of that. Concomitantly, my peripheral vision caughtthe entire Tucson Federal Savings team come flying off their collective asses as the baseball clearedthe outfield fence by two feet. I knew I hit a home run as my catcher required manhood protector and I made thehorns of the three bases and headed toward home plate. My teammates crowded my arrival.Though we lost the game, there was much to celebrate as the worst hitter on the team was the onlyplayer to hit a home run off the behemoth the entire season. 10
That‟s it my friends. That‟s the entire story. I will leave the interpretation of Wisdom‟struth your decipherment as we part company. I‟m sure some of you are scratching your headswondering, “What does buying a cup protector and hitting the team‟s only home run off thebehemoth pitcher have to do with the beauty of loving a woman?” God, I love those GreekPhilosophers. The End 11
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.