At times, an individual comes into our life for only a short time, but leaves an indelible mark.
Take Bradley, for example. (I’ll only use his first name in case he’s still somewhere in the area and might be offended by the story – although truthful – that I tell.)
I don’t know where he came from – I just know he moved to a rural home west of Alleman in the summer of 1959. Although he left in less than a year, I’ve not forgotten Bradley. I don’t think about him often, but when I do it conjures up one particularly unforgettable incident.
We had a pretty darned good Babe Ruth League baseball team that year. Our team members came mostly from Alleman and Elkhart and the rural areas surrounding them. We played our home games at Sheldahl.
When Bradley showed up for our first spring practice, he was an outsider. None of us knew him since his family had moved to the area just after school was let out for the summer. Obviously, he had to prove himself.
As a bunch of kids in our mid-teens, not yet old enough to drive, I’m sure we looked at this “outsider” with skepticism. He’d have to be pretty good to take a position away from one of our friends on our baseball team.
But, Bradley did just that.
He wasn’t the greatest ballplayer on the team, but he was good enough to become our regular shortstop, a pretty hefty position on a team that featured players who’d been together for several years. Bradley had pretty good range – an attribute for a shortstop. He wasn’t the best hitter, nor was he the worst. His speed on the base paths, though, kept him near the top of the lineup. His job was to get on base however he could – walk, hit, error – then steal second base.
It worked pretty well.
We played in a four-team league that included a team from Granger and two from Urbandale, along with our North Polk team. We rolled to six wins in our first seven games before stumbling. Still we had a one-game lead over Urbandale Super Value with just a showdown game left again, naturally, Urbandale Super Value.
The game was played in Urbandale.
It was an incident on that afternoon that caused Bradley to become forever etched in memory.
I was pitching and Bradley, of course, was at shortstop.
Those days of the 1950s brought lots of things “new” to kids in rural Iowa, mostly via television. For example, we all loved the “game of the week” on Saturdays. We got to see our heroes up close on grainy black and white screens and they became bigger than life itself.
Something you saw back then that you don’t see now, thankfully, was Major League players’ cheeks puffed out with wads of chewing tobacco. Naturally, they’d spit often and it seems gross now, but was an accepted part of baseball back then.
Kids around the nation, I’m sure, took notice. We emulated our heroes with several “Tootsie Rolls” jammed into our cheeks. We’d spit just like the pros.
But, on this particular extremely hot July afternoon, as we prepared to take the field, we heard Bradley trying to get our attention from behind the dugout.
“Psssst,” he said, wanting us to hear, but not our coach. “C’mere. Look what I’ve got.”
Bradley had a pouch filled with chewing tobacco. Not Tootsie Rolls – real honest-to-goodness chewing tobacco.
By golly, finally, we could be just like our real-life baseball heroes.
Bradley began passing out a wad for each of us. I spit mine out almost as quickly as I put it in my mouth. Several others did the same.
Not Bradley, though. Nosiree, Bradley was going to show us all just what a man he was.
Some of us, myself included, still felt a little nauseated, even though we’d rid ourselves of the tobacco almost as quickly as we’d put it in our mouths.
I took the mound in the bottom of the first inning and retired the first hitter I faced when, suddenly, from the shortstop position we heard Bradley screaming, “Time Out! Time Out!”
We turned to see Bradley on a dead run to the left field fence. He ran into the fence, leaned over and got sick. Really sick. I turned away as quickly as possible, but other teammates quickly became ill, as well.
So here we are, a bunch of 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds in a game that could win an outright championship, undoubtedly the most important game of the season, retching in agony.
Needless to say, our coach was irate when he discovered what was going on.
It’s probably no surprise, and certainly deserved, but we lost that game. We also lost a one-game playoff with Super Value.
Yes sir, Bradley, you’ve left a lasting impression.