Cartoon by C. Menges
Jerry's View: They called me 'Coach'
It was the spring of 1954. The smell of the grass field, a fist smacking a fielder's glove, the crack of the bat when a pitch was perfectly hit. Those were the signs of America's pastime in small towns across the land.
The Seattle Rainiers baseball squad was our only hometown professional sports team. Once in a while we took the kids to a game. I got the coach, Dewey Soriano, to get me a ball signed by the members of the team. That ball became an honored treasure in our house. My own boys wanted to mimic the pros. They got games going in the front yard. A homer sent the ball into the neighbors' hedge. Their friends were joining teams and playing on regulation fields.
One of the neighborhood dads asked me if I would help out with coaching a team. I was soon coach of the Beverly Park Pikers. It was my duty to guide raw athletes and teach them the finer points of the game. I was unqualified. They didn't know I'd never made my own pony league time in 1934.
In fact, I was such a klutz, I gave up baseball of any kind after school mate Donnie Kirsch* won the third base competition held by the Portland Beavers at Vaughn Street Field that year. *Donnie was later a famous Oregon U. baseball coach for many years.
Not having qualifications to coach 13-year-old boys was the least of my worries. Pony League used a 10" softball compared to 9" hardball. How difficult could it be?
One day we'd scratched our way back into a game with the Boulevard Park Brats. Standing at 3rd base in the coaches' box, I noticed the pitcher was chewing his Bazooka bubble gum vigorously. He was nervous with the sacks full. And he knew Big Jesse Gumbert had gone 2 for 2 in his previous at-bats. These would be the deciding pitches of the game.
I looked up behind Big Jesse. A kid had climbed three-quarters of the way up the back stop above the umpire. I guess he wanted a better view of the game. Before I could call time-out, the Boulevard Park hurler flashed a belt-high fastball toward the plate. Big Jesse wasn't taking anymore pitches. He set his feet, cocked his wrists and swung away.
That poor kid on the backstop did not understand that a foul ball traveling at high speed can dent a chain link fence. When there are finger tips protruding through it, they also dent. When we got him down, his fingers resembled smashed rhubarb stalks; we called for some ice and a time-out.
Big Jesse had smacked that ball pretty hard. The game resumed with the backstop kid in the bleachers clutching his fingers. Jesse hit a triple on the next pitch to win the game. Coaching is a cinch, I thought.
I later learned that Big Jesse was 19-years-old and still in the sixth grade. Now I know why he drove to the practices.