Summers are special when you’re growing up. It’s a time to travel, see your grandparents, go to a ballgame, attend a church or band camp. It was like that for me, but instead of doing what most kids did, I went to baseball school for six weeks.
As a sixth grader (only 4 1/2 ft. tall) I was off to Springfield, Illinois, over two hundred miles away from home. The school was run by two retired Washington Senator scouts. There were only five or six baseball schools in the country at that time— OK, yes, it was a looong time ago🙂. Luckily the Springfield, IL location was much closer than the other choices. But it wasn’t cheap; it cost my parents an arm and a leg – $150, I think.
The camp was not like most camps are today. There were no dorms, food services or buses to take you to and from the camp. I was on my own, living in a boarding house. The hosts were a wonderful, elderly couple and I had my own room. I loved it—the old man was a St. Louis Cardinal fan—so I got to listen with him every night to Harry Cary. What could be better?
I had my meals in a little café two block away. Breakfast was bacon, eggs and toast for 45 cents a day, lunch specials were 75 cents and the blue plate special for supper was 95 cents. Life was good!
I played ball every day, two hours of instruction and three games. At twelve, I was the youngest one in the camp. The next oldest was fourteen, most of the guys were sixteen or more. I learned how to compete and did quite well. By the time I attended the camp for the fifth summer I was an All Star.
At the camp, I learned more than how to play the game. Part of our instruction was about growing up to be a man. They shared things about girls/women I’d never heard. Sometimes the guys laughed and giggled, I don’t know why. But the talks were about more than that—we learned about respect, responsibility and resourcefulness.
There was no television so on Saturdays I walked downtown to see a show—a double feature matinee, cartoons and the news. Afterward, I’d walk home, seventeen blocks. The bus was a dime, but I was too scared. I’d never been on a city bus; I had no idea how or when to get off.
Today I remember some part of my baseball camp experience almost every day. I was a twelve-year-old country bumpkin off to a city for six weeks. I ate out alone every day, walked wherever I needed to go, and paid cash for everything I wanted to buy. My parents called me once a week. For me, attending baseball school was something I really wanted to do. I have to say, it required a lot of growing up that first year.