“They were bigger, faster, BETTER than I was…” the phenom admitted.
Today’s discussion requires a “set-up”. Bear with me. It is quite AWESOME.
Back in 2006 I wrote The Boys of Post 9. It was about an American Legion baseball team in Charlotte in 1964-65. Their team and individual stories are still “the stuff of legends” for those still fogging mirrors in Greater Mecklenburg.
Last year I asked Where Have You Gone Harper Cooper – my first baseball hero. Harper Cooper was the back-up catcher for the Kinston Eagles in 1962 – a Class A farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He “was nice” to a kid (me) who hung out down around the home team’s bullpen.
STOP! BobLee, that’s a picture of Clint Courtney. Yeah, I know. There are no pictures of Harper. “Scrap Iron” was his idol, they both were catchers and wore glasses. Harper said it was OK…
He had been a high school “phenom” in his east Tennessee home town. 1962 would be his swan song as a professional baseball player. The small town phenom never got to The Show.
Within six hours of posting that column I HEARD FROM HARPER COOPER. No clue how. He lives in Arlington TX and, in his mid 70s, is a flight instructor apply monikered “Skye King”. We email frequently on all matters re: baseball.
Earlier this week I sent Harper a Cardinals’ piece I did recently “Once They all were Phenoms” and also the piece about “The Boys of Post 9”.
The summer of 1957 my American Legion team went to the state finals and lost it in the 9th. But, that year we had a trip to St Louis to watch the Cards (Musial,et al) and to play the national American Legion champs from the year before.
That’s when I realized there were kids out there that were bigger, faster, better than me and the kids I played with. Even those never made it to the Big Time.
As I read that I went WHOA is that ever an awesome topic or WHAT!
When a local phenom realizes the world is full of phenoms and many/most more “phenomenal” that he/she is.
Millville NJ is smaller than Harper’s home town. Millville had a phenom in 2009. His name is Mike Trout.
MikeTrout is recognized today as The Best Baseball Player on Earth. Mike Trout is PHENOMENAL.
Between Harper Cooper and Mike Trout there are a bazillion stories of a bazillion local “phenoms”. Every phenom has a dream.
This is not “a baseball story” or “a sports story”. This “a Life story”.
In 1969 Cape Girardeau (MO) Central High School’s school play was Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun.
The lead role of Annie Oakley was played by a willowy blond named Susan Stiegemeyer.
Her jealous rivals insist she got the role because, as a natural blond, the school would not need to purchase a wig. For want of a wig… a star was born.
There were only four performances in the school’s auditorium. By the 4th night, it was SRO and “the Talk of the Town”.
Legend as it if you sit in the exact center of that auditorium, today, and listen carefully, you can still hear “… I can do anything better than you” and, of course, “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun”.
Barge captains floating by on The Mississippi during The Grand Finale swear they heard her.
Her proud parents and three brothers swear to this day, the Standing O for “Annie’s” curtain call was “at least ten minutes… maybe longer”. A “phenom” was born that weekend.
The Great White Way… Hollywood… for sure The Muni Opera at St. Louis’ Forest Park awaited Cape Girardeau’s acting “phenom”.
Alas… majoring in drama at Southeast Missouri State University soon convinced our budding diva that “people in show biz are all freakin’ nutz”.
So instead she became a “political operative”(?) and married an Internet Legend 33 years ago.
Her call sign is “Blondie”. A reminder that “they didn’t have to purchase a wig”.
I have discussed versions of “phenom meets reality” with Duke’s FB AA Leo Hart and UNC’s Danny Talbott… and many others.
They, like Harper, vividly recall when they looked around and “everyone was bigger and better than I was”.
I recall UNC Football in the late 60s… freshmen FBer check-in day in mid-August. All the “highly touted recruits” taking the next step on their sports careers. Many wearing their high school letter jackets covered in pins and medals attesting to their high school BMOC glory.
They would look around and everyone had a similar BMOC jacket. A roomful of phenoms. Those jackets were quickly put away and never seen again.
UNC legend Don McCauley still recalls his first day on UNC’s Navy Field as a raw rookie “phenom” from Garden City LI. Don and a few other “frosh” were sent over to Field #1 as human tackling dummies for the varsity.
“I’ll never forget how big and fast they were. I had never been hit so hard on a football field. I KNEW I had made a mistake. I was ready to go back home…”
For the record, UNC FB in the late 60s was far from “a juggernaut” but it was not Garden City LI. Don reconsidered after that first experience and the rest is history… a consensus All American and a 10-year career with the Baltimore Colts.
Some “phenoms” do make it.
We return to Blondie’s show biz world for a closing analogy.
“For every light on Broadway there is a broken dream…
and a phenom who “coulda been a contenda”
Is it better to have been a phenom who missed the brass ring… or never been a phenom at all? What do YOU think?
As seems to be happening a lot these days… there be BIG CHANGES AFOOT around here. Full details when the paint’s all dry.