Bats & Balls & Jingle Bells

January16/ 2000

Christmas is an aromatic season … cedar trees, cookies baking in the oven, crackling fireplaces, and that special smell of a brand new baseball glove! I was doing some almost last minute shopping and wandered into a local Dick’s Sporting Goods. ….Christmas and sporting goods forever linked in a child’s memory.

I tried on a baseball glove this week.  It’s been a few decades since I’ve done that; but instinct took over.  There I was pounding my fist to “make a pocket”.  I picked up a baseball and gripped a two-seam fastball then a “knuckler”.  My breaking balls were much better with a wiffle ball than a real baseball but I was snapping my wrist and “pretending”. The guy beside me looked at me funny but seemed to understand.

Do they still have “neatsfoot oil”?   Do they still make jokes about trapping neats and cutting off their little feet to make the oil?

They have “pocket making kits” now.  We just put an old ball in the pocket, tied it up tight with a belt and let it sit in a bucket of water overnight … then, of course, rubbed “neatsfoot oil” into it.  Getting a new “mitt” for Christmas was “special”.

I picked up a bat.  You don’t just “pick up” a bat.  You grab it outta the rack and “grip it” and do a little mini-swing … being sure to have the trademark facing up.  That whole “trademark thingie” was hooey but I like “hooey”.  Getting a new “mitt” and a new bat for Christmas was extra “special”.

Over the years I got all the “boy” sporting goods stuff.  Basketball, football, tennis racquet, et al. I didn’t take up golf until post-college so I never “waggled” on Christmas morning.

Mamma said every kld should get a pair of skates for Christmas.  We’re talking clip onto the soles of your shoes and tighten with a key skates … not “in-line” space-age technology wheels.  I never was into skating but I got a pair one year.

I always got lots of forts and toy soldiers and such.  One year I got a Captain Gallant Foreign Legion set.  They did not include the 72 virgins to give to the dead arabs.  They probably would today …. if they could find 72 toy plastic virgins.

Growing up “downeast” we never had sub-zero weather but it could get chilly in December. No matter you were out in the driveway and around the neighborhood with your new gear bouncing, kicking, throwing, and the aforementioned “pounding a pocket”.

No discussion of Christmas sporting goods would be complete without “that electric football game” with the metal field and the little vibrating players and that kicker that kicked a little cotton ball with his spring foot.  I went one better with a game called Foto-Electric Football that used a light box and offense/defense overlays.  You pulled the light board and watched the runner try to avoid the tacklers.  I wish I had that game now.

Remember little frogmen that ran on baking soda in a special compartment?  They were alka seltzer powered little frogmen in your bathtub.

Remember a horse racing game where Dad would touch his cigarette to a star on the special racing sheet and the burning lines would “race” to a finish line?

I didn’t see any of those at Dick’s Big Box Store.  I saw FoosBall and Air Hockey which seem like good “play on Christmas morning while still in your pajamas” games.  They have all sorts of dart boards now.  We had the standard “put your eye out” metal spear darts.  Most of Mom’s lamp shades had dart holes in them.

A Daisy BB gun (NOT an “air rifle”; a BB gun!), pellet guns, a single shot .22, and ultimately a .410. I worked my way up the boy’s firearm chain. I was always more of a threat to cans and bottles than the neighborhood sparrows and squirrels.

I got a new pair of “Chuck’s” most years.   I always wanted the “lowcuts” as they were supposed to make you run faster.

I still have most of the Chip Hilton books.  Written by an old coach named Clair Bee; Chip and his pals always won the “big game” with last second heroics.  They played football, basketball, and baseball and always played fair, never blamed the refs, and, to the best of my memory, had no “lunatic fringe” to contend with.  I always wondered what would have happened if Chip Hilton’s team had ever met Gil Thorpe’s team in a “big game”.

I’m the only “boy” at my house.  Kid is not a Title lX kinda girl.  Mention “Twins” to her and she thinks Mary Kate & Ashley; not Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison. I’m cool with that.  I have my own bathroom where I can leave the seat up.

Most households now have kids doing thumb exercises “playing” their high tech NBA and NFL Madden 2003 video games.  Those things are amazing examples of technology but I bet I could take my 11 little blue men, bend their little metal strips just so, flip the “on” switch and watch their “flying wedge” vibrate right through those wussie one dimensional video players. Then kick that little cotton ball straight thru the uprights for the PAT.

Now BobLee has got you guys and gals all nostalgic for those sporting Christmases of your youth.  If you’ve got kids, or grandkids, … gather’em around you and tell’em about slaughtering those “neats” to make your mitt smell just right.  If P.E.T.A. ever tries to get “neats” on that “endangered” list, let’s all grab a bat and hit’em (but not on “the trademark”, of course.)


What the heck is “myrrh” ?


My first Christmas away from home was 1969.  Missouri was playing Penn State in The Orange Bowl.  Coach Devine had us staying at Stan Musial’s hotel – The Ivanhoe – on Collins Ave in Miami Beach.  As I recall that day went without incident as regards being homesick and all.
Being an only child our Christmas mornings were scuffle-less …. ALL the toys were MINE!   Around 11 we would go down to Grandmother’s for a giant family gathering.  A number of aunts and uncles and cousins lived in the area.  Looking back that was quite the dysfunctional assembly.  Apparently most such are.  I guess its best you don’t know that until later in life.
Our 20 Christmases w/ Kid have ALL gone smoothly ….. again “an only child” situation.  This year we are going with a smaller “tree on a table” rather than the traditional 7-8′ version.  Missus always complains about the decorating hassles but just try and suggest “let’s not bother this year”!

I hope your Christmas memories are happy ones.  Not everyones are you know.  Christmases can be like marriages and jobs ….. we have unreasonable expectations and assume ours is the only one that falls short of those expectations.
100 or so more BLSays columns since last year.  Some times it seems like just yesterday this all started ….. sometimes it seems like forever.
Hermy still wants to be a dentist ….. Bumbles still bounce ….. Yukon Cornelius ROCKS!


   You’re all quite special you know!

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