Little League in Bolivar

Winter is a time to reminice. Things slow down up
here, like everywhere else. There’s time to daydram
about home.

A boy had many milestones growing up in Bolivar. One
if the first was learning to ride a bike. That was
almost instant freedom. Just about everything worth
doing was reachable by bike. The fishing creeks at
Saltrising Road and Bartlett Road. The swimming pool.
Town Team baseball games at the school. Glintz’s
store to buy popsicles.

One of the most important uses of the bike was to
spectate at the Little League fields. Our league
consisted of 4 teams: the Braves, Red Sox, Yankees and
Dodgers. Little League started at age 8. Most of us
learned to ride a bike about 6 or 7. The ballfield
was on the edge of town, along the creek. From our
house it was about a 8 blocks or so. Loose change
would buy you some Pixie Stix or candy cigarettes and
a pop from the concession stand.

We all had our favorite teams. Mine was the Braves.
I can’t remember exactly just why it was the Braves.
It may have been that the Dempseys, our distant
cousins, were on the team. Or maybe it was because
they were the league leaders at the time.

Hitting a home run was the ultimate achievement – kind
of like a high schooler being able to dunk a
basketball. It didn’t happen very often, and
certainly not every year. When Dave Lockwood starting
hitting them, word spread like wildfire among the 6
and 7 year olds. We didn’t want to miss a game.
Everyone knew how many home runs he had, and we tried
to make every game.

When I finally reached 8 years old, I went to tryouts.
When Dick Smith, the fire chief and coach of the
Yankees, called and told me I’d made his team, I was
devastated. I think I cried on the phone telling him
I wanted to play for the Braves. I can’t remember his
reply, but the Yankees were to be my team for the next
4 years.

As brother Joel came of age, he, too, joined the team,
as was the rule. Family were assigned to the same
team for parental sanity, I’m sure. Our cousin, Suzie
Dempsey, made the newspapers when she became a member
of the Braves with her brothers. A girl playing
little league was a big deal in the 1970’s. There
were few organized sports of any kind for girls back
then. Many didn’t start participating in sports until
they were in High School.

Since she’d been playing sand lot baseball with us
since we could remember, it was a bigger deal outside
Bolivar than it was to us. But she, and other girls
like her, led the way to better girls sports across
the country. The daughter of two of our
contemporaries, Jordan Ingalls, just signed a
full-ride scholarship to Youngstown State Division I
softball as a pitcher. She’s the first female I know
of to play Division I sports from our school – and
really only the second person ever. Bob Torrey, who
graduated in the early 1970’s, played football at Penn
State. Nice to see women’s sports coming of age

But back to the Yankees. Turns out we went from the
basement to the top of the league over our four years.
We won all 10 of our games one year. Mom came and
watched at most of the games, and was always a comfort
to see her there. Grandpa would watch when he was in
town too. I think the only time I was ever mad at him
was when he left a game to go fishing with someone
without waiting for me. I forgave him when he took me
to back to the new spot he’d learned of that day on
the Genessee River over near Wellsville.

The biggest play I remember was by my brother. He was
using this huge glove borrowed from Pat Cawley, our
neighbor who grew up in the house behind us. Joel was
about 10 years old, and playing left field. There
were runners on first and second with nobody out, when
the batter hit a line drive to the leftcenter gap.
Joel ran to his left. From my catchers position, I
watched him float through the air in a full horizontal
position, and snag the ball in the webbing of the huge
glove. The runners on first and second saw no way he
was going to catch the ball, and were already on their
way to the next base. Joel got to his feet, threw the
ball in to second baseman, who touched second, and
then threw the ball to the first baseman, and that was
a triple play. Funny how you remember things like
that. Life was Little Leage back then. Only later in
life did we come to fully appreciate all the time the
coaches and parents gave to run the league. And to
regret some disrespectful behavior we doled out to the
volunteer umpires. None of knew then the sacifices
these men made, working a blue collar job all day,
then coming down to listen to some whiny kids (and
sometimes parents) complain about balls and strikes a
outs.nd I try to thank them even now when I get back
home. Many of them are umping games in heaven now.

Mark Stopha and Sara Hannan
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
Wild Salmon and Salmon Pet Treats
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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