Boomers and Mister Boomer Played Baseball

While recently walking to meet friends in a nearby park, Mister Boomer happened upon a Little League baseball game in progress. It immediately transported him 50-plus years back to his stint in Little League in the early 1960s.

Boys in Mister B’s neighborhood were obsessed with baseball in any form, from sandlot to Little League to the majors. Baseball card collecting was a huge part of their daily discussions. They’d trade cards among themselves and put duplicates or lesser-player cards in the spokes of their bicycles, which they rode to the baseball fields for all-day games during the summer. So it was understood that the first chance a boy had to play team baseball, he’d try out. A boy could play four years of Little League, then go on to Pony League play as a teen. Worst case scenario, city recreation baseball was open to all, regardless of ability.

Thus it was that Mister Boomer came to play organized team baseball. He had tried out for Little League, but failed to get picked up by a team. Instead, he and a couple of school  friends signed up for the city league. The teams in the city league could choose their own names, so after much debate, the boys decided on a name that was inspirational and timely; they would be known as The Astronauts. While the season gave Mister B practical team experience, it wasn’t Little League, with their formal uniforms and dedicated practice times. So the following year, Mister B tried out for Little League again, and this time, was put on a team that was sponsored by a local drug store.

A neighborhood kid was on the same team, so the boys would ride their bikes to practices and games together. The season started before school was out for summer, so time was tight getting home from school, wolfing down some dinner and riding to the field. Most of the team was already at the field when Mister Boomer arrived and parked his bike. A few minutes later the coach called the boys together to announce the line-up. His side was to be the home team in this game, so they would be in the field first. Mister Boomer was assigned right field, and would be batting fifth.

The first inning began without incident, and in short order Mister B’s team was at bat. The lead-off boy hit a ground ball up the middle and was safely on first base. The second batter hit a pop-up fly ball for the first out. The next batter hit another single, advancing the original runner to third base. Mister Boomer waited in the on-deck circle, wondering if he would get his turn at bat when the fourth batter was given a walk. That meant as Mister Boomer stepped into the batter’s box for his first official Little League at bat, the bases were loaded with one out.

Mister Boomer felt his heart racing, and, as many movies have described, he experienced a slowdown in time. He watched as the pitcher did his wind-up, but it appeared to be in slow motion. Mister Boomer glanced at the first base coach, as instructed, and was given the go-ahead to hit at will. Mister B hated to let any ball go by if he thought it was within his hitting range. He watched as the ball left the hand of the pitcher and was coming in a little high and to the outside of the strike zone, but Mister B was determined to give it a swing. Visions of hitting a ground ball to the infield that could be turned into a double play and end the inning rushed through his head, but he powered the bat in an arc that just barely missed the sweet spot. As a right-handed batter, the slight undercut of the ball, coupled with a minute late swing, caused it to acquire a fly ball trajectory into the opposite direction — right field.

As Mister Boomer dropped the bat and ran furiously toward first base, he could see the surprised look on the right fielder’s face as the ball sailed over his head. The first base coach was signaling Mister B to “go, go, go” as the right fielder picked up the ball in the grass and threw it as hard as he could — toward first base but over the first baseman’s head. Team members scrambled to get the ball, which was now in the area where parents had parked their folding chairs. Mister B could hear the air rushing through the earholes of his helmet as he peered back to see what was going on, and promptly tripped over second base. Falling face first into the dirt, shouts of “Get up! Go, go, go!” echoed though his head as he got to his feet and ran toward third base. The throw was nowhere near third base, and ended up in left field as Mister Boomer saw the third base coach waving him in to home with a windmill turn of his arm. Mister B kicked it into high gear and stepped across home plate as the throw came in to the catcher. He had a hit at his first time at bat in Little League, and it was an inside-the-park home run.

More than a home run, he had a grand slam home run, with four runs being scored. He was elated as he was greeted by his teammates and parents of fellow team members cheered. Mister B played the rest of the game in a fog, despite getting a couple more hits. His team won handily, but after the game was over, he was informed that his grand slam was the result of the other team being charged with three errors, and that took a little wind out of his sails. But he was happy he had a hit in his first at bat, and it was a home run.

Mister Boomer went on to play three years in Little League on the same team, and had the chance to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His combined batting average was over .400 and he learned to bat equally well as a left hander as right, giving his coach another weapon in the battle for diamond supremacy. In his second year, the team made it to the playoff games. Mister B was proud to be able to move to a field with real team dugouts, visitor stands and beautifully manicured grass, but his team was eliminated in the first round.

Baseball was a big part of Mister Boomer’s early life, but as soon as he entered high school, he stopped playing in any form, as neighborhood kids were all off in different directions, and dreams of learning how to drive appeared on the horizon.

Did baseball — or another sport — occupy your summer vacations, boomers?

Boomers Recall People Who Died in 2014

There were many people in music, TV, movies and politics who held great significance to the Boomer Generation who passed on in 2014. Here are some who played a role in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood.

Phil Everly (born 1939) – Jan. 3
As half of The Everly Brothers duo, Phil Everly made his indelible mark on the Boomer Generation, and Mister Boomer. He wrote about Phil Everly on January 12 last year: Bye, Bye Love: Another Boomer Icon Has Passed

Russell Johnson (born 1924) – Jan. 16
Boomers knew Russell Johnson as the Professor on Gilligan’s Island (1964-67). Mister Boomer watched all of the Gilligan’s Island episodes with his siblings. He has thought that even though the Professor could make a radio out of coconut shells, why would he want to fix the boat and leave the island when he was marooned with the likes of Mary Ann and Ginger?

Pete Seeger (born 1919 ) – Jan. 28
Pete Seeger became one of the top voices of folk music in the 1950s with the band the Weavers, and a voice of protest in the 1960s. Several of his songs are now forever etched in boomer minds as he penned the classics, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (with Joe Hickson), Turn! Turn! Turn!, If I Had a Hammer and many others. It was Seeger who championed a young Bob Dylan, inviting him to appear at the Newport Folk Festival. Dylan and many other musicians named Seeger as a big influence on them. Seeger was a life-long activist, supporting causes for civil and labor rights, racial equality, international understanding, and anti-militarism and especially in his later years, environmental concerns for clean waterways.

Shirley Temple Black (born 1928 ) – Feb. 11
Like Tarzan movies, Shirley Temple movies were a staple on TV in the early days, despite having been made decades earlier. That is where Mister Boomer and probably a host of other boomers first became acquainted with her. She later served as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

Sid Caesar (born 1922) – Feb. 11
Mister B watched repeats of Mr. Caesar on TV with his parents for years (Your Show of Shows [1950-54] and Caesar’s Hour [1954-57]), but what sealed the deal and made Mister B a lifelong fan was Caesar’s performance in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963. Mister B feels he was one of the greatest comedians ever.

Bob Casale (born 1952) – Feb. 17
Most boomers became acquainted with Bob Casale, himself a boomer, from his bass playing for the band, Devo. When Devo released their first album in 1978 (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo) Mister Boomer bought the vinyl and became a fan.

Mickey Rooney (born 1920 ) – April 6
Mister Boomer first saw Mickey Rooney in old movies on TV. Rooney had been performing since he was a child, with his first performance at the age of 17 months when his vaudeville actor parents included him in their show. Many boomers will recall Rooney from the Andy Hardy series of movies, though Mister B didn’t watch them. More than likely he first saw Rooney in Babes in Arms (1939) as he recalls Judy Garland with Rooney, and with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944). Rooney had carved out an image of the ultimate actor, being able to portray comedic and dramatic roles with equal aplomb. During the height of his popularity he went on to make forty-three movies before being drafted into the army during World War II. In the prime boomer years, Rooney received acclaim for his roles in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Ann B. Davis (born 1926) – June 1
The Brady Bunch wasn’t a show Mister Boomer’s family watched with any regularity, but every boomer knew of Ann B. Davis and her character, Alice, who was the maid for the Brady family. Early boomers may also recall her role as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz in The Bob Cummings Show (1955-59). Mister B does remember his parents watching that show in glorious black & white.

Chuck Noll (born 1932) – June 13
Mister B learned about Chuck Noll when he was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. He led the team to four Super Bowl wins. Though not a huge football fan himself, Mister B’s pals were big on the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys. In the 1970s, Chuck Noll’s Steelers were synonymous with pro football; early in his tenure the Steelers acquired “Mean” Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw, who became household names and are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Casey Kasem (born 1932) – June 15
If not his face, boomers certainly knew Casey Kasem’s voice. He hosted and co-founded the radio program, America’s Top 40 (1970-88; then again1998-04). Boomers also knew him as the voice of many cartoon characters in movies and TV, most notably “Shaggy” Rogers on Scooby-Doo (1969-97; then again 2002-09).
Eli Wallach (born 1915) – June 24
An actor who made his Broadway debut in 1945, Mister B first saw Eli Wallach in the classic movie, The Magnificent Seven (1960) and knew he was something special.  Six years later he starred opposite Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). It is probably no coincidence that Wallach is in two of Mister B’s favorite Westerns of all time.

Paul Mazursky (born 1930) – June 30
Some of Mister B’s favorite movies of the 1970s were directed by Paul Mazursky. He was able to capture the zeitgeist of the era with films like, Bob and  Carol and Ted and Alice, Harry and Tonto and An Unmarried Woman. He began his career as an actor before he become a popular director. In his later years he returned to acting, appearing on The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Mister B had a special connection to Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, since he saw the film at a drive-in on a double date with his brother and his girlfriend. (Boomers Loved The Ford Mustang)

Robin Williams (born 1951) – Aug. 11
Himself a baby boomer, Williams hit Mister Boomer’s radar when he appeared as the alien Mork from Ork on Happy Days (1974). His recurring role landed him a spin-off show where he reprised his alien character role. Mork & Mindy debuted in 1978 with Pam Dawber as the Earthling who learned Mork’s identity and allowed him to move into her attic. Mork’s signature “Nanu Nanu” phrase was constantly repeated by boomers around the schoolyard. Though Mister Boomer enjoyed Robin Williams’ off-the-wall improvisations — as he did Jonathan Winters prior to Williams — he wasn’t a fan of Mork & Mindy.
Williams went on to numerous film, TV and stage roles, both comedic and dramatic. A couple of Mister B’s picks include Moscow on the Hudson (1984), The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), Hook (1991) and Aladdin (1992). Most boomers would probably include Jumanji (1995), The Birdcage (1996) and Good Will Hunting (1997).

Lauren Bacall (born 1924) – Aug. 12
Somewhere in the ’60s Mister Boomer watched Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the movie, To Have and Have Not (1944) on the family’s black & white TV. Her sultry voice and good looks made her a natural pairing with the rugged Humphrey Bogart, despite their age difference — she was 19, he was 44. The two hit it off on the set and were married in 1945. Mister Boomer’s school chums would renact the movie’s “whistle” scene when the female objects of their desire walked by. A true legend to boomers and beyond, there was no doubt to Mister B that Lauren Bacall was a real-deal movie star.

Richard Kiel (born 1939) – Sept. 10
Best known to boomers as the actor who portrayed the character Jaws in two James Bond films: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Due to his height (7 ft. 1.5 in.) and ghostly appearance, he most often was cast as assassins, aliens and outcasts. He added an additional touch of humor to the tongue-and-cheek action of the Bond films of that time.

Paul Revere (born 1938) – Oct. 4
Musician, bandleader and all-around rock ‘n roll crazy man, Paul Revere was the organist and bandleader of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Known for always wearing colorful Revolutionary-War style clothing, he fronted the band from 1960 to 1976, then again from 1978 to 2014. Mister Boomer used to watch the band on Where the Action Is (1965-67), where the band appeared regularly. He recalls one time of their purposefully bad lip-synching to a song on a beach while playing their instruments — which obviously were not plugged into anything. Mister Boomer heard his music through Brother Boomer, and became a fan. Today he has a Greatest Hits album in his collection, but Hungry (1966) and Kicks (1966) remain his favorites.

Ben Bradlee (born 1921) – Oct. 20
Most boomers first heard about Ben Bradlee when Woodward and Bernstein’s stories about the Watergate break-in were published in The Washington Post in 1972. Ben Bradlee was the executive editor who supported the reporters’ investigation.

Marcia Strassman (born 1948) – Oct. 24
Marcia Strassman began her acting career in the 1960s, appearing on The Patty Duke Show, among others. At the age of 15, she replaced Liza Minnelli in the Off-Broadway production of Best Foot Forward. Strassman had aspirations for a singing career, and had a couple of minor hits in the late ’60s before returning to acting. Boomers mostly knew Marcia Strassman as Gabe Kaplan’s wife on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79). She also appeared in several popular TV shows of the ’70s, including The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, and as recurring character, nurse Margie Cutler on M*A*S*H. She later appeared in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992).

Jack Bruce (born 1943) – Oct. 25
There probably isn’t a boomer anywhere who didn’t listen to Jack Bruce when he played bass for Cream. Some of Cream’s biggest hits — all favorites of Mister B — were written by Mr. Bruce, including White Room, Sunshine of Your Love and I Feel Free. He helped define post-British Invasion music for the Boomer Generation.

Jimmy Ruffin (born 1932) – Nov. 17
After signing with Motown in 1966, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted was released, became a hit and was forever enshrined in the hearts of boomers. His younger brother, David, was the lead singer for The Temptations. Mister Boomer inherited two of Ruffin’s 45 RPM records from Brother Boomer: in addition to What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, he has another of Ruffin’s hits, I’ve Passed This Way Before.

Bobby Keys (born 1944) – Dec. 2
The sax player for The Rolling Stones, his musical stylings helped make Brown Sugar a super hit for boomers. He had toured with Buddy Holly and played on John Lennon recordings, too. He takes his place among the rock royalty with whom he played.

Ralph Baer (born 1922) – Dec. 6
As the inventor of the precursor to Pong and pioneer in the field of video gaming, Ralph Baer is called the “Father of Video Games.” As an engineer and inventor, he was part of team that developed the first TV video game console between 1966 and ’67. His console system was licensed to Magnavox in 1972, which released their design as Odyssey. Baer held over 150 patents, mostly in consumer electronics and gaming. He made Simon, the electronic memory game that is still selling today. Mister Boomer recalls going to his local airport with friends, where there was a Pong unit. In those days, there was little security in the airport, and teenagers with drivers’ licenses were free to come and go.

Ken Weatherwax (born 1955) – Dec. 9
Another fellow boomer, Ken Weatherwax is best known for his portrayal of Pugsley on The Addams Family (1964-66). Pugsley was the oldest of the two children of Gomez and Morticia Addams. He and his sister Wednesday were always engaging in life-threatening situations which were the opposite of what boomers’ moms would tell their children. Mister B enjoyed these crazy scenarios of electric chair experiments and the like.

Joe Cocker (born 1944) – Dec. 14
Mister Boomer, like many boomers, first heard about Joe Cocker from his performance at Woodstock (1969). His unique vocal style and bluesy sound was something Mister B could latch onto, and his version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help from My Friends remains in Mister B’s music collection.

Of course, there were many others who struck a chord and made their marks with Baby Boomers. Which passings in 2014 hold a special memory for you, boomers?