Baseball takes me back to childhood memories

Published 7:20 pm Thursday, October 5, 2017

By the time the paper hits your front steps, the Houston Astros will have played Game one of the ALCS and will be preparing for game two at Minute Maid Park. If you can muster up a little love, then maybe you can aim it toward me and my Astros this October.

I have been a big ‘Stros fan since the late 70s, ever since moving to Houston to complete my courting, then marrying, the amazin’ blonde. It has been a good ride with the hometown boys — well, the amazin’ blonde, too — but still we haven’t won our first World Series.

But that is not to say that I haven’t experienced a few world championships on my own. In fact, I won one about every Saturday growing up at 901 Juniper Street in LaGrange.

You see, my big brother Wayne invented a little game of imaginary baseball that he and I must have played a thousand times. Mainly, we played it separately, but at times we’d try to do it together. Our house on Juniper had some tall concrete steps leading up to it. We would stand on the edge of the street and throw a tennis ball against the steps and try to catch it.

If we caught it, it was an out.  If it got over our head, it might be a double or a triple or even a homerun.

If we weren’t careful, the ball would get away from us, dribble across the street, jump the five-foot retaining wall beside Mrs. Richardson’s house and die in the bushes in her front yard. Her house was kind of in a hole, sitting a good 20-feet below ours. If you got airborne, falling over that wall was like falling out of a tree.

With that downhill slope, it didn’t take much power for the ball to get “over the wall,” either. Of course, any time the ball cleared that wall it was an out-of-the-park homerun.

Wayne and I both gave up our share of home runs through the years, but he was the only one to give up a tape measure homerun that landed in Mrs. Richardson’s bedroom. It bounced off the steps, hit the road sizzling and busted through her window at approximately 100 miles an hour. She didn’t seem to mind too much, but it did end up costing Wayne some baseball-card money.

You would’ve thought that breaking the window would’ve been enough to get Wayne to retire, but it wasn’t.  He kept playing until he was about 16 years old. By that time the tennis ball had turned to a golf ball — talk about a “juiced” ball! When we’d throw it a little too hard, it would get over our heads, bounce across the street, jump the curb in one big bound and scoot over that five-foot wall into Ms. Richardson’s yard and sometimes off the roof.

Miraculously, even with the juiced-up ball, the busted window was the only real damage that anybody sustained in all the years we played.

Except for one other time.

One day, Wayne offered a fast ball right down the middle of the plate, and that golf ball blasted off the steps as it could do. Wayne went back to track it down, as if he were Mickey Mantle chasing a fly ball to the wall in Yankee Stadium.

He sprinted across the street, jumped the curb, and lunged for the ball, stretching out like a runner crossing the finish line. Before he knew it, he was flying through the air and falling headlong down that five-foot drop-off. When the dust settled, Wayne had broken his arm in a couple of different places and was placed on injured reserve. I wouldn’t learn the worst part until years later, after we both were grown.

“Steve,” he said with a sigh one day a few years ago, “after I broke my arm, I never played that game again.” I had to sigh at that myself.

It’s tough to have to say goodbye to homeruns, World Series, and two outs — bases loaded games in the bottom of the ninth.

In a way, it’s like saying goodbye to childhood wonder.

Steve Bowen is a former Granger who lives and writes in Red Oak, Texas.