Back in the old days, you could play Legion baseball until your 19th birthday so I got to play four summers of Legion ball on good old Al Jackson Field at Shadle Park.
I am no relation to “Grandpa” Al Jackson, who the field was named after, but as the League Commissioner, he was at all of the games and we would always joke around about having the same last names.
My first year of Legion, the summer of ’72, came after my 10th grade year at Gonzaga Prep, where I played JV until the last week of the season when “Fox” Frazier called me up for a forgettable “cup of coffee”. We lived in the Mead district but the levy failed in 1971 and a bunch of us went to Gonzaga to play sports. Anyway, after the year at Prep, where I was completely in awe of the varsity players, who I believe won the City League, I joined the newly formed Mead, Rogers, Cheney, Deer Park combination legion team. We were sponsored by Simchuck Sporting Goods.
My dad, Charlie Jackson and Tom Poage, both southpaws, were the coaches. My dad, a 5’9” realtor and former St. Louis Cardinal minor-leaguer and Tom, a 6’8” founder of Zip Trip, looked like Randy Johnson and Joey Cora, standing next to each other. We called them Mutt & Jeff behind their backs. I will never forget when Tom, an Oklahoma giant of a man, wrestled with his size medium pinstriped polyester uniform in his car then strolled across the parking lot for our first game looking like 40 pounds of sausage stuffed in a 10 pound bag. But he and dad were geared up and ready to co-coach their first Legion game.
The coaches’ tight uniforms must have affected their judgment as they forgot I wasn’t a lefty and put me in the lineup, against the GPrep varsity, at first base, a position I had never played and normally reserved for lefty’s. Also, we were playing the late game, under the Shadle lights, my first ever night game. First base was closest to the GPrep (American-Italian Club) bench and I heard a few muffled questions: “Is that JV Jackson starting at 1st?
Well, warm-ups went OK, but that’s about it. In the first inning, my first chance, a grounder to 3rd, fielded clean and tossed my way. I was in my newly-learned stretch position. The last I saw of the ball it was heading my way then it entered the bright background of the field lights. I had no idea where it was! I held the stretch position and the ball sailed over my outstretched glove and landed right between my eyes. I was knocked on my rear near the AIC bench. They thought that was a pretty funny play. Welcome to big-time, varsity Legion ball.
One other memory from that summer: We were playing the Shadle team, I believe coached by Mr. Farr. His son Ted, had been drafted very high by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Ted was playing legion that summer. I was up to bat against Shadle, peeked back at the catcher and remember thinking: “I batted .250 on the GPrep JV and this guy just got drafted by the Dodgers! Am I in the right league?”
Dad and Tom gave it one more summer, as apparently no one else wanted to coach our motley bunch of “country boys”. The next year, the legendary Shadle/Rogers/WSU coach and athlete, Jim Payton figured he could mold us into a real team. He had us doing plyometrics, calisthenics, and a few other “…ics” before every practice and game. We had “skull sessions” up the ying-yang. He knew more “situations” than Tony LaRussa and shared them all with us. Problem was, we were already real good getting into situations, we just couldn’t get out of ‘em. We tried double steals, fake bunts, wheel plays and run and hits; we had more signals than the US Navy! Remembering them was a whole other issue. Carrying them out was even more to ask. But we all worked hard to please Coach Payton because we knew how hard he was working for us and how much he cared about us and the game.
I felt very honored when he appointed me as the captain of the team. I remember coming home early in the season and being proud sharing Coach Payton’s nickname for me: “Stud”. I thought that was a great team captain’s nickname. The next day at practice, we were having infield. I played short and Coach was hitting flies to the outfield. He said to the leftfielder: “Bring it in to 2nd , Stud.” What? I thought I was “Stud”?. Then he said the same thing to the centerfielder, and the rightfielder, etc. He was calling all of us “Stud.” I guess it was hard to remember all of our names from all of our different schools. Anyway, what did it matter? We were all “Studs” back in the summer of ’74.
My last legion summer was after my freshman year at WSU, summer of ’75. I turned 18 that August so I got to play another season. Coach Payton wisely passed the coaching baton on to the now equally legendary Chuck Filippini. Chuck was 21 years old, in his first year of a nearly 40-year coaching career, now with North Central. Chuck was great! We could really relate to a coach about our age who didn’t have nicknames for us or get too caught up with situational baseball. We did however have a nickname for Chuck in any situation. How could we not? Of course, our coach was lovingly referred to as Coach Chuck “Flip-a-Weenie”. He is still my friend and coaching buddy.
So that’s it – a few fond memories of four of the best summers of my life. What could be better than being young, playing baseball on a summer night under the tall lights of Jackson Field and knowing you’re a “Stud”? I can still see those lights on, from miles away on summer nights, and know there are young baseball players making great summer memories of their own like I did almost 40 summers ago.