Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Long Gone

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he had strolled through White’s Park the other day, after a lengthy time away, and seemingly didn’t notice much different with the beautiful park. A few trees had grown larger, but other than that……nothing.

Funny, and not to be argumentative, but I sat along the first base side of a recent Sunset League game for a few innings and thought just the opposite……at least as far as the big league baseball field is concerned.

Odd, isn’t it, but we always, always called the large diamond the “big league baseball field.” Never the Sunset League field. Or the Legion field. Or the Concord High field, all teams that played there on a regular basis.

Our “Big League Field” was sort of our field of dreams - not that many of us were even remotely good enough to make the “big leagues” - before there was such a thing.

Before I go one syllable further: God bless Stephen DeStefano.

Steve has a wonderful family. A vast real estate company. Represents the town of Bow in the Legislature.

Yet if it wasn’t for Steve, I suspect the Sunset League, the oldest after supper league in all of America, might be dead. Steve has put together an enjoyable brand of baseball in the area with mostly college players from all around the state.

So what I write next is by no means a complaint about the Sunset League or the efforts of DeStefano. It’s more about the times we live in.

Gone: The crowds at Sunset League games. Old-timer Shammy Angwin used to tell me stories of how there were hundreds of people at the games back in his day (1930s). In my day, the number probably hit 100 on a very good night. Now…….the attendance in the three games I attended last month: 7, 9, and 11.

Gone: For the above reason, members of the home team don’t walk through the crowds with their baseball caps in hand hoping for a donation to help defray the costs of the league. No, they don’t pass the hat for collections any more.

Gone: There’s no little kid towing a red wagon filled with metal numbers across the field from the stone storage shed deep down the left line across the field to the green wooden scoreboard in foul territory down the right field line.

Gone: In fact, the scoreboard isn’t used any more for Sunset League games at White’s.

Gone: The official scorer – Jim Jeannotte, Allen Lessels, Jimmy Heath, Jim Rivers, Bob Lauze, Scott Taylor among many others - gathered the starting lineups from the respective managers, scored the game and then wrote up the game story for the Concord Monitor, hustling down to the Monitor’s office on North State Street to hand in their story. Every single game. All season long.

Gone: There are no little kids chasing foul balls and bringing them back to the older gentleman sitting on the top row of the first base bleachers. Last I knew the going rate was $0.25 per night, but that was a time ago. My grandfather Charlie proudly performed those tasks as did Tommy Curtis who just recently passed away.

(For an extra Jic Jac and a Whoopie Pie, can you tell me the first names of Gunther and Catty Curtis, two of Mr. Curtis’s sons?)

Gone: If you were never a batboy, shame on you. There are no batboys now. No one hustling to get the bats out of the way or running down to first base with a jacket if the pitcher got on base.

Gone: The pitchers seldom wear jackets on base. Never understood why a perfectly healthy young man needed to wear a jacket on an 85-degree day in the summer.

Gone: One of the treats of being a batboy was that you got to keep the broken bats at game’s end. No more. The bats aren’t wooden any longer. You break one of those aluminum jobbies and you’ve done something. Although, I’m betting my next Wayne Terwilliger baseball card that Hopkinton’s David Foster could have broken one.

Gone: The Great Resin Bag Sprint. The batboys and all the other urchins left over at game’s end used to line up around the dugouts (or benches depending on the year) and prepare for the end of the game resin bag race. The speediest kid got to keep the resin bag from the back of the pitcher’s mound. What we did with those resin bags completely escapes me now, but back then there seemed to be a purpose to grabbing the bag at game’s end.

Didn’t notice any resin bag resting quietly behind the mound at White’s the other night.

Gone: The pathway from the opening in the left field fence at Charles Street diagonally across the outfield to the flagpole in right field foul territory. The pathway was scuffed that way primarily by one of the town drunks, Red Gray, on his way to and from Carlen’s Café down on the corner of Center and North Main Streets.

Gone: Carlen’s Café, but that’s another story.

Gone: Or at least really obscured is the old stone storage house deep down the left field line, a stone’s throw away from the opening near the Lugg’s house at the end of Beacon Street.

Gone: The old set of bleachers just off third base where Red Sox area scout Jack Onslow would sit with his wide brim hat and his packet of index cards, jotting down notes on the local players in the Sunset League. Just one time I’d love to read what he wrote about the slow-footed blond kid with the big head.

Gone: The local flavor of Concord area players. No more Hardimans, Steenbekes, Lassondes, Berniers, Johnsons, Shaws. The Sunset League has teams from outside the area filled with plenty of college talent. But not many Concord folks.

Gone: The crowned infield. Really good baseball fields are crowned from the pitcher’s mound towards the baselines. Supposedly for drainage, but I suspect the original groundskeepers hated bunters so sloped the field towards the baselines thus helping all but the well-placed bunt roll foul. Now the inside portion of the infield has to be 6 inches lower than the baseline.

Rumor had it that the city was planning on moving the baseball field so home plate would be elsewhere (no, you smart aleck Rollins Park guys, the dump isn’t where they planned on moving the field).

Gone: The cars parked high above the knoll on the third base side. Obstructions are in place so cars cannot park there anymore.

Gone: The water fountain behind home plate. Swallow your spit.

Gone: Dan, Dan the Ice Cream Man. Bring you own bottle of water.

Gone: Base coaches. Most times, no one is coaching first base and third base has a coach only when a runner gets in scoring position. Man, what I would give to hear the rantings and ravings of Richard (Arab) Labnon coaching in the third base coaches box just one more time.

Gone: The long ski jump well off the left field line. Used to be a great hiding place in our daily game of Chase.

Gone: The tall hill (King Hill) down the left field line, now purposely cut short by trees planted about half way up the hill. One too many sled/toboggan lawsuits, I suspect.

Not Gone: An enjoyable two hours spent watching America’s pastime (don’t start the football/basketball/soccer/golf/NASCAR argument, please!) in the wonderful setting we all know as White’s.

So, maybe my friend was right: nothing has changed at White's Park. Sort of.


Duck(y) Matter

Got some great responses from the piece on Ducky Mead. Steve Bamford suggested he has five or six Ducky stories that would keep you rolling on the floor. Bill Luti still smiles remembering the time he ventured to Albany to a coaches clinic sharing the front seat of the car with Walter Smith as Winnicunnet's Bob Dodge and Ducky held down the back seat. Bill swears he laughed the entire trip.

But the one guaranteed to put a smile on your face comes from former New England College hoop coach and athletic director George Hamilton.

If you know Ducky, can you imagine waking up in the morning to one of his funny stories? That's what happened to Hamilton.......for an entire school year as Hamilton and Mead were roommates at Springfield College.

Hamilton's jaws hurt for a year later from laughing so hard.

Concord’s Big Dig

Correct me if I’m wrong, but with all the baby boomers readying to retire, doesn’t the Concord School Board’s plan of creating its own Big Dig come at about the worst time possible? Seems like just when the largest number of our towns folks head towards their limited earnings years, the school board shouldn’t be planning on building and/or renovating all those school buildings.

Make Up Your Mind

Guaranteed to happen: Sometime during the upcoming school year, an article will appear in the national news telling us that our youngsters are overweight and out of shape and our local educators/teachers will be tasked with finding a way of combatting this malady.

It's at that point that someone should bring out a picture of the local middle school's current sign out front of its building imploring its students to enjoy their summer AND READ FIVE BOOKS A WEEK.

If you're reading five books a week, you're not out exercising, now are you?

Missed Opportunity

Walk with me for a minute. The San Francisco Giants were in Boston from June 15-17. Barry Bonds – hate ‘em or not – was in town with the Giants. Bonds is chasing Hank Aaron’s career home run record. To do that he has to HIT the baseball.

So wouldn’t you think a conversation with the San Francisco Giants’ hitting instructor would be an interesting story?

Especially when that hitting instructor is none other than Joe Lefebvre (Concord High ‘74/Post 21) a former major league player with the Yankees, Padres, and Phillies (where he played in a World Series with some guys named Rose, Schmidt, Morgan)?

The large red ball on my personal left field wall is blinking “E” on that one for the Concord Monitor.

Where in the World Is….

I hope he’s just on vacation, but I haven’t seen Ray Duckler’s byline in the Concord Monitor recently. I just know he would have written something about Matt Bonner being a part of an NBA championship team. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect Ray would have penned a line or two about the passing of one of Concord's great hockey supporters, Leonard (Red) Brochu.

When is 100?

If something started in 1909 and is still going, is the 100th anniversary in 2008 (which is the 100th year of partipation) or is the 100th anniversary in 2009?

Going Rate

At $10 per game, how many games do you think Matt Bonner would have to had scored and timed for Andy Pappas in the Concord Men’s Basketball League to equal his winner’s playoff share in the NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs? Bon-Bon becomes the most famous scorer-timer in CMBL history.

Stop It, Now

To every sportscaster, newscaster, or anyone in the sports writing field: Stop calling the pitcher’s mound “the bump.” As in, Dice-K will be on the bump tonight for the Red Sox.

It’s not a bump. Never has been. Should never be. It’s a mound. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now let’s stop it. You’re just showing your baseball ignorance.


Gotta love that commercial for Encore tabs. The ad suggests you take one tab 45 minutes before sexual activity and you will have tremendous staying power.

How the hell do you know when to start the 45-minute clock? If some of my cronies, or high school classmates for that matter, took one every time they thought about it, they would down a caseload of Encore in about two days and likely have their left leg turn to stone.

And on that note, have a wonderful Fourth of July.



Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your White's Park stories, Jeff--my old stomping grounds, too. I particularly smiled remembering "Dan Dan the Icecream Man." Do you remember that mean chow dog of his, too?
Brenda (Woodfin) Thomas

Abigail Carlen said...

My family owned the Carlen's Café (my father Jans Carlen grew up in Concord). I just googled the Café to see if I could find any rememberances online. Do you remember the place? I'd love to hear more about it.