Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Game Under the Lights

A few weeks ago, my grandfather and I were talking about a Francona decision and he mentioned he'll sometimes overanalyze what Francona does because of his experience as a coach and a semi-pro player. Intrigued, I pressed him for some stories; below is the retelling of a game my grandfather played in as a member of a semi-pro team in the Biddeford-Saco area of Maine, featuring one of the star pitchers of the era. All last names have been changed at my grandfather's request. I hope you enjoy.

I can no longer remember the dates, but it was in the summer of either 1947 or ’48. Semi-pro baseball became quite popular in the Biddeford-Saco area, fueled in part by the infusion of Southern service men stationed in the area that had married some of the local girls and went into the shops and mills to work after the war. There was no TV, the race track at Scarborough & Beech Ridge was just starting up, so outside of the movies, the local entertainment was local sports, including both baseball and softball. There was a twilight league game just about every night with anywhere from 300 - 500 fans turning out for the games, with lights brought by the traveling teams that were about twelve feet high. Ira Jones, the manager of the Saco All-Stars, started to bring in outside teams to play against his team. He needed a first baseman/utility player for some of his games and he called me to play against both the House of David and the Colored Giants.

Now, old Ira was nobody's fool when it came to being competitive: for the game against the Colored Giants, he got Tommy Higgins to come down from the "country" (Waterboro, Maine) to pitch for us. Tommy had pitched for the Boston Braves' triple A farm team and was so good he had a chance to move up to the parent club, but refused: at that time he could make more money pitching semi-pro ball at home during the summer than pitching for the majors and he could live at home instead of having to travel.

It was nothing for Tommy to pitch a game a night for anyone that wanted to pay for his services. Promoters liked him, too: he was a local favorite and drew the crowds. Against the Colored Giants, he received $25.00 for the game – a bit more than usual, because the game went into the fifteenth inning and he pitched every inning. Tommy is gone now, but he would say as far as the old timers would be concerned, the pitchers today are only trained to pitch Little League.

I played the first eight innings of the game at first base. Imagine a boy of fifteen (wearing glasses, which was unheard of) playing with some pretty good ball players. Every time I had to look up or look across the diamond, the artificial lights’ glare on my glasses was like the sun shining in my eyes. I must admit, when the game started I was a little nervous, but old Tommy took care of that early: the first ground ball was hit back to him and he ran over and tossed the ball to me, then said "good catch, kid," which gave me confidence. I do not remember getting a hit, but I did have to make one catch in foul territory; it was an adventure, but the ball did find its way into the glove.

In the last of the fifteenth, Tommy and the Saco All-Stars won the game with a score of 2 - 1. Ira paid the travel team their money, Tommy got his money, Ira made his money, the crowd saw a great game, and I had a great experience.