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.
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.