Playing Baseball as a Kid
A Little League Catcher
I have always had a great love for baseball. Although playing very little ball after college, my childhood was spent up until the age of 14 on playgrounds and baseball diamonds with neighborhood kids. It was a rewarding experience teaching me the importance of practice, hard work, teamwork, and good sportsmanship. In this article, I reflect on my first contact playing baseball which reaches a climax when I played on a small village team right before high school.
Learning How to Play Baseball: 1951-1953
In the second or third grade, I started to become interested in baseball. During recess time and lunch hour, I used to watch the older boys play softball with father on the playground of Saint Mary's Help of Christians School in West Allis, Wisconsin. How I envied the boys who could hit the ball over the fence and on to the street for a home run!
Before I could play ball, however, I had to learn how to catch and hit a ball. Dad was a great help in teaching me how to catch with a baseball glove. I still remember learning how to catch a ball by holding my glove in a crazy cocked position. Learning to hit was harder because I had to hold a bat correctly, watch the ball, and then stride into it by swinging in the right way.
Dad had always wanted me to be a catcher, so for one Christmas, he got me a nice catcher's mitt, mask, and shin guards. I never really used them that much, however, until I was 12 or 13.
While living in the city up until March of 1954, I would play ball with neighborhood kids on the school playground. Two of the older boys would be captains to choose players for their team. This was done by having one of the captains throw a bat which the other captain had to catch with one hand on the lower barrel of the bat. Both captains would then put their hands above each other on the barrel of the bat until one person reached the handle. This person was the winner and he had the first choice for players on his team.
Wanting to Play Little League Baseball: 1954-1956
After we moved out to a farm in 1954, I attended a Catholic School in the village of Mukwonago about three or four miles away. Mukwonago had a summer Little League team, and I wanted so badly to try out for the team. The problem was that dad worked the second shift from 3:30 until 11:30 p.m. and practice was in the early evening. I had no way to get to practice and really felt bad.
I couldn't really play that much ball around the home because my younger sister didn't like to play and there was only one nearby neighbor kid, Norman. Most of the time, I played by myself. I would throw a ball into the air, hit it, and then run after the ball. When the weather was bad, I made up a game in the house using baseball cards, a knife, and a marble. After positioning the cards as players on the floor, I would pretend that I was an opposition hitter by throwing a marble into the air and hitting it with a knife handle. If the marble hit a baseball card, an out was recorded.
The times I cherished the most were when dad had time to pitch and I would bat, or when my uncle visited and would hit high fly balls to me in a cut hayfield.
Preparing to Play Neighborhood Village Ball: 1957-1958
In March of 1957, we moved to our newly purchased farm one-half mile north of the village of Honey Creek. After becoming quick friends with David and Terry who lived on an adjacent farm, we began playing baseball together early that summer. David was two years behind me in grade school and Terry four. Both boys liked my catcher's mitt, mask, and shin guards very much, but David used the equipment the most.
After playing together for a short time, we decided to form a team from kids in Honey Creek and play teams from other neighboring communities. Being the biggest and the oldest, David and Terry wanted me to be the pitcher. David would catch and Terry play left field. Now we had to find six more kids to make a team. In Honey Creek, we were able to find five more players. Jimmie and Skipper who were about a year or two younger than me would play first base and third base respectively. Mark and John who were brothers would play shortstop and second base. The fifth Honey Creek player, Billy, would play center field. Now we only needed a right fielder. Although he was only six or seven, Scottie who was a next-door neighbor to David and Terry would play right field.
Having found our team players, David, Terry, and I now had to find a field for practice and games. David asked his father about this matter, and Mr. Lewis or Gordie as I called him said we could use one of his cut straw fields for practice and games. The field was adjacent to a cornfield, and a long drive by a left-handed hitter like me into the tall corn plants would be a home run!
After we set up 10-12 bales of straw as a backstop, we marked off home plate, the bases, and a pitcher's box. During our few short practices, I pitched to David and pretended that I was a major league hurler having a fastball, curve, and change-up. We thought that if I struck out most of the opposing batters, it wasn't really important having good fielding players.
Playing on the Honey Creek Village Team: 1957-1958
Around the middle of August of 1957, our Honey Creek team arranged to play its first game. With the assistance of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, a game was lined up against Mrs. Lewis' relatives who lived about 10 miles away. We were the home team on a hot summer afternoon, and Gordie was the umpire calling balls and strikes.
I pitched that day and after about an hour or two, the game ended I believe in a 9-9 tie. My home run into the cornfield is still vivid in my mind, and I also remember the refreshment break we had during the game. Mrs. Lewis prepared an eight-gallon milk can filled with ice-cold Kool-Aid, and it really hit the spot in quenching everyone's thirst.
We played one more game that summer, and it was against the same team from outside of the village of Waterford. This time we were the visiting team and I pitched again on a diamond which was set in a cow pasture. Unfortunately, I didn't pitch well that day and we lost the game.
Our team in the summer of 1958 had the same players from the year before with the addition of Ralph, a bigger boy like me. That summer we played two games. One of the games was away against German Settlement in a neighboring county. Once again, I pitched that day, even though I had six stitches in my lower right leg from a farm accident suffered a few days earlier. We lost that game because I thought I could throw a curve that didn't break at all. The opposing hitter got a hit that scored the winning run.
The End of Playing Baseball as a Kid
In the summer of 1959, the village team ruled that I was too old to play because my age was almost 15 and I had just finished my first year of high school. I was, however, permitted to umpire one of the Honey Creek village games.
Playing baseball was fun and rewarding as a kid. It was my first real experience being on a team where practice, cooperation, and good sportsmanship were necessary for success.
© 2017 Paul Richard Kuehn