July 7, 2013 in Sports

Baseball still special sport

Guest Column
Associated Press photo

Wonderful memories have been made on neighborhood fields through the years.
(Full-size photo)

About the author

 Long-time Spokane Valley resident Sally Jackson was inspired to write this guest column following the death of former professional baseball player George Huffman. Huffman, a Coeur d’Alene resident, played professional baseball with Ron Jackson (Sally’s husband) in the 1950s and the two retired after the 1957 season. They remained friends and both coached American Legion baseball in the area.

I’ve always believed that warm spring and summer evenings were created so we could sit under an open sky and watch baseball. We’ve been watching baseball in the good old USA for well over a hundred years.

Baseball is something we can always depend on. It’s stability in an unstable world. Three strikes and you’re out. Four balls and you walk. Get to first base before the ball and you’re safe. Cross home plate before you’re tagged and it’s a run for the team. Not many things have stayed so consistent in this inconsistent world we live in.

I fell in love with baseball in 1938 when I was in first grade. Grandma and grandpa took me to my first Spokane Indians game. I still remember walking in and seeing that huge field under the bright lights.

The big green wooden Ferris Field Baseball Park on North Altamont was my favorite place. It meant sitting in the middle of my family and cheering on our beloved team. It meant shelling and crunching on peanuts.

It meant singing “Take Me out to the Ball Game” as Norm Thue pumped away on the old organ. It meant feeling secure as a kid.

Even as kids, we knew all of the players’ names and the positions they played. We loved the players and rooted for them all. We felt the pain in the ’40s when the team bus rolled and many of our heroes died. We missed them.

As kids, we played baseball every day that there wasn’t snow on the ground. Work-up, fly-up, Indian-ball – it was our love. Our worn-out baseball was held together with tape we had scrounged. Our mitts were beat-up hand-me-downs. And our bat was wooden with big chunks missing. Those were the valued tools of our obsession.

I played on the grade-school baseball team until junior high school, when I heard those dreaded words: “Girls can’t play on the boys’ team.”

After college, I met and married a professional baseball player. What a great life that was.

My husband had signed with the old St. Louis Browns in the 1940s when there were only sixteen major league teams. He signed for $10,000 and a bus ticket to spring training. There were no agents then, no multimillion-dollar contracts, and no multimillion-dollar salaries.

My husband and fellow players signed for the “love of the game.” They were thrilled to be able to make a living by doing what they loved. They were tough, they were savvy, and they were usually funny, with great senses of humor. Field and dugout chatter was a part of the game and it was priceless.

Now, after enjoying 75 years of baseball, my love of the game hasn’t diminished. I still love to hear the distinctive sound of a home run coming off the bat.

I continue to be amazed that a mere mortal with a skinny round piece of hard wood can hit a small sphere being hurdled 90 miles an hour at him. Then, there’s the grace of the double play that rivals any ballet movements. Running catches, leaping catches – what a game. To top it off, it’s a sport where an average-sized human can excel.

So, once again, the annual pilgrimage to the ballpark begins. Little ones with mitts on their hands hustle to keep up with their parents’ long strides. The aroma of popcorn and hot dogs fill the air. The excitement and anticipation runs high as a game begins. It’s baseball, it’s America, it’s tradition, and I hope that the strains of “Take Me out to the Ball Game” float on the summer night air for many generations to come.

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