Friday, April 12, 2013

We didn't wiff on this ...

      If the definition of insanity, as my wife likes to remind me so often, is doing the same (crazy) thing over and over and expecting different results, consider our wiffle-ball games in Sunset Acres some 50 years ago.
      From about my eighth-grade year through my senior year in high school, a select few of us played wiffle ball in the middle of the day ... in the middle of the summer ... in 100-degree temperatures ... for a couple of hours at a time. And we did this 5-6 days a week every summer.
      Then we'd stop for lunch, sweating pouring off our shirts (if we wore them) and all over the kitchen ... and we'd go out and play again for a couple of more hours.
       It was insane.
       It also, at times, was hilarious. It was about as much fun as we ever had in Sunset Acres and, you know what, I'd do it again. Only I'm 65 now, and I like air conditioning.
       But 6527 Burke Street -- where Johnny, Terry and little Steve Tucker lived with their parents -- was a second home for me. I was the nominal fourth son a lot of days and nights.
        And that was the site of Tucker Field -- the Yankee Stadium of Sunset Acres wiffle ball. You can ask Ronnie Shelton or Earl Hebert or Pat Bradford or the Hiers boys, Pat and Jeff. They were part of the visiting teams, the losers.
         With me teaming up with Johnny Tucker -- and with me arguing the close plays and slanting the rules -- we never lost.  Never. Johnny hit the home runs; the ones that didn't managed to get around the huge tree in the middle of the yard, and I got the cheap hits and ran the bases like hell, and we'd always come out ahead.
         Sometimes we'd go on the road and play in the Hiers' backyard, where Jeff once went after a ball and when older brother Pat yelled at him to throw it, Jeff yelled back, "I can't; my foot's caught under the fence."
           We're still laughing.
            We played in Ronnie Shelton's backyard one day, but it was so tiny. Not even the trees there could stop the barrage of home runs. It was a bandbox; even I hit some home runs that day. We decided that 35-30 games weren't what we wanted.
           Everyone had their own way of playing wiffle ball. For us, it was two-player teams, we ran the bases, and we had forceouts at home plate.
           We had our plastic bats and we took care not to crack them. We experimented with different types of wiffle balls, but some cracked very easily. We finally decided we liked the balls with holes, rather than the solid balls. To get the kind we liked, we had to go all the way to K-Mart off Linwood Ave., across from what would become the LSU Medical School -- maybe it was Confederate Hospital back then ... a good drive from Sunset Acres.
           Again, just nuts.
           Actually, we could have played night games at Tucker Field. That's how we got started one night when Mr. Tucker turned on the spotlight that illuminated the backyard well enough that we could see what we were doing. However, Mr. Tucker wasn't too keen on us playing hours at a time and running up the electricity bill.
The guy on the right (Johnny Tucker) was
 the home run king; the big guy on the left
 was king of the arguments.
              So it was day games, and gallons of water, and the patient Mrs. Tucker rolling her eyes at our arguments. I don't know how she put up with the sweathogs coming into her house, but after all, she was raising three boys of her own, and then there was me, so she was used to it.
            I know this, she was going to make me  put on a shirt -- no matter how soaked it was -- to eat in her kitchen and, on the rare occasion that I slammed a screen door, she would make me come back and shut it nicely.
            One summer we had a regular four-team league, a schedule of 12 games for each team (four games against each of the other teams). Rain, of course, interrupted us at times; so did parents' other plans. There were yards to cut and chores to do. So maybe we didn't finish the schedule. But I guarantee you this: John Tucker and I were undefeated.
           I know this because, budding sportswriter that I was, I did a story on one unbeaten season. Its readership was limited to the Tucker household.
           This madness continued into our high school years, and obviously I told other people about it. I'd play wiffle ball by day, work as a parttimer for The Shreveport Times at night. One day, Pete Barroquerque -- then a young sportswriter at The Times -- came out to Sunset Acres to play with us.
           And I obviously popped off at school, too. Because after my sophomore year, Jon Pat Stephenson and Ken Liberto -- two of my good friends and both great all-round athletes at Woodlawn -- came to Tucker Field for a "challenge" game of wiffle ball.
            They were All-City caliber baseball players. But they were playing on our turf, by our rules. Of course, we beat them.
            No, I'm kidding. They beat our butts. So much for wiffle-ball superiority.


  1. From Jimmie Cox: There was ALWAYS something going on or to do in Sunset Acres in the '50s and '60s. I bet I rode my bike on every street in Sunset Acres over 100 times -- from Hollywood to 70th, Mansfield Road to Jewella, up and down all around what was Sunset Acres. Keep up the memories; they really bring back the simple and good times.

  2. From Tim Looney: Ah... wiffle ball! The good ole days! We too played for hours and hours all summer long -- stopping only for the occasional drink from a water hose or an outdoor hydrant.

  3. From Robert Steckel: The only ball I could throw a curve with.

  4. From Harlan Alexander: I've often said that I wish I could have raised my boys in the '50s. ... Not everything was perfect; in fact, a lot of things needed change, but playing outdoors, no electronics to keep us inside, provided us with fond memories of those days. Not sure what today's youth will remember down the road.

  5. From Scott McCoy: The Billy Martin of wiffle ball. Never would have guessed.

  6. From Earl Hebert: Great blog, Nico. EXCEPT the way I remember it, Ronnie Shelton and I were the team to beat!

  7. From Jack Thigpen: How much fun did we have as kids playing ball in the yard! I had a neighbor that had a one-car garage. We would saw off about an inch of a broom handle and use that as the ball and the rest of the broom handle as the bat. The batter would be in the garage as the pitcher, standing at the opening, would throw the one-inch broom handle, as the ball, at him to hit. If you hit it out of the garage past a line we had marked, it would count as a home run. If the “ball” would hit the side of the garage, it was an out. We played of hours at a time just the two of us.
    There was also a large cleared-off lot across the street where we played real baseball. The lot was owned by the Folk family and it was known all over Ruston as “Folks Field.” Seemed as large as Yankee Stadium back then. A few years ago I drove by Folks Field and it really seemed small compared to what I remembered. A lot of things seemed larger as a 7–12-year-old than they do now.
    So many memories playing outside as we grew up. Did not have the organized baseball leagues that are everywhere now. Just the neighborhood boys playing ball by themselves. I think the simpler times were the best.
    Thanks for the memories.

  8. From Tim Hall: This was a classic. If I were to write about all of the wiffle ball we played when I was growing up in Alexandria (later we graduated to real "hardball") you would think I plagiarized your story. I think the only thing that would change would be the names ... and, yes, we had our share of arguments, disagreements. No fights, just a lot of high-level bravado. Great article.

  9. From Tommy Youngblood: We played behind Danny Rembert's house. I'm sure half of those famous teams you talked about the other day played in our league. Good stuff. In retrospect I had to be the worst ever at baseball and basketball. I'm pretty sure Trey [Prather] was great at both.

  10. From Jeanie McKinley: My friend, Marilyn Chapman Sims, lived in Sunset Acres. I remember turning on American Bandstand real loud on the black & white TV and dancing in the driveway, going to the pool in Sunset Acres was always a blast, every kid in in the neighborhood walked to the pool. Some "older kid" that lived next door was rebuilding his "dream" car, he was dedicated and finally finished, it looked rough, but he was proud to have wheels!! It didn't take much to keep us entertained or happy.

  11. From Patrick Booras: We had a huge, I mean huge, backyard at Booras Field, and a perfect left-field foul pole -- a wooden telephone pole. My younger brother at age 6 could "go deep" about 90 feet down the left-field line and 130 to center field. He was destined for the major leagues. How his 7-year-old is. ... Great story.

  12. From Pamela Summerlin: Mud pies. I made THE most elaborate mud pies! I wonder if there's a child anywhere who knows how to make a proper mud pie.
    ... Nothing to do with the subject, but OH, the times they were!

  13. From Gerry Robichaux: When I went to Catholic High in Baton Rouge, the campus was downtown, a short way from the Pentagon Barracks near the state capitol. The barracks were two stories and the second story appartments entered from a long porch. We would sneak over there after school and place home plate in a position so that there were upper decks for right-handed or left=handed batters. Oh,the thrill of one deep into the Upper Deck!!!

  14. From Dr. Don Jones: Thanks for the fun article on whiffle ball. Just the other night, my wife and I were talking about how Wayne Burney, Jerry Smith and I would spend every spare minute during the summer in Jerry's backyard padding our home run numbers. Deep center field was no more than 100 feet so the numbers were quite impressive. Thanks again for great memories.

  15. From Les Bolton: When we moved to Sunset Acres, there were a lot of vacant lots up and down the steets and we played baseball, football, frizbee, rode mini bikes, flew kites, all over West Canal and Lakehurst. Also in the big vacant property at the end of Meadow Street which we called "The Field."