Call takes me back to the old ballgame |

Call takes me back to the old ballgame

Mike Vidakovich
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Mike Vidakovich

There was a recent message on my telephone answering machine that put a big smile on my face and sent me on a pleasant stroll down Memory Lane.

“Hey Mike, let’s get together and play some catch.”

I had agreed to be a fill-in on a local slow-pitch softball team, and the message was from team captain and organizer Bob Willey, no doubt wanting to get in a little spring training of sorts before the first game.

The last time anyone asked me to play catch was when I was loving every minute of playing Glenwood Little League baseball in the summers of my youth. I got started as an 8-year-old and continued to play each season through age 14.

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Too much fun.

School was out, all of my good buddies were together, and off we rode on our bikes to Sayre Park for practices in the morning and games each afternoon.

Even on days when my team wasn’t playing, I would still, more often than not, go out to the field to see if I could be a batboy or just hang around the refreshment stand, eat pixie sticks, and soak up the sun. I loved the game, and life was grand.

None of us realized it at the time, but we couldn’t have possibly been in better hands than the coaches who taught us the game of baseball back then. Harlan Spencer, Rich Stubler, Dale Strode, Pat Riley and Dan Enewold were certainly not easy on us by any means, but they helped to teach us the game and about life also.

I still remember having to stay after practice one morning and field grounder after grounder from one of the coaches for failing to properly move my feet and keep my glove in the dirt at shortstop. When I saw my dad later that night and was complaining about the extra practice session and the bruises I had from some bad bounces of the ball, his words were unsympathetic and to the point, “Well, move your damn feet and keep your glove down! You need to toughen up anyway.”

Not many balls got through me the rest of the summer.

Remembering my Little League days also brought back fond memories of the baseball team I followed with a passion as a boy ” the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles are probably the worst team in baseball now, and have been for several years, but that wasn’t the case in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The O’s were somewhat of a dynasty back then, winning the World Series in 1966, ’70 and ’73. Only some incredible catches by outfielder Tommie Agee and the Amazin’ New York Mets prevented Baltimore from winning it all in 1969 also.

The names of Orioles such as Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair, Andy Etchebarren, Jim Palmer, Mark Belanger and Brooks Robinson still come to mind like it was yesteryear.

From the moment I woke up in the morning, until my head hit the pillow at night, I would wear that orange and black Oriole ballcap with the smiling bird on the front and pretend that I was Gold Glover Mark Belanger at shortstop.

With Belanger and Brooks Robinson at third base, the left side of the Oriole infield was seemingly impenetrable. The days that I got called on to take the mound, I tried to emulate the high leg kick of one of my earliest sports heroes, pitcher Jim Palmer. My results were never as good as Palmer’s.

When Baltimore was in the 1970 World Series against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, I remember going through the lunch line at Glenwood Elementary and asking Principal Skip Bolitho, “What’s the score, Skip?” He would always listen to the games on the radio while helping the lunch ladies serve those fish sticks to us kids.

Too much fun.

Thanks for that call, Brother Willey. Let’s play catch.

Mike Vidakovich writes freelance sports for the Post Independent.

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