Tuesday, July 2, 2013

If summer is endless, that's OK

One of our favorite boyhood places: The baseball/softball diamond and, in
 the background, the domedbasketball court near Oak Terrace. (SPAR photo)
       Walking out of the bookstore and toward the yogurt shop one day last week, it was 100-plus degrees ... in the shade. When I noted to the person walking beside me that "it is a bit warm," he said, "I like it like this."
      Me, too. I love summer. Always have, even back to the days in Sunset Acres; yes, before air conditioning.
      Don't mind the 100-degree days. I try to take my daily walk earlier in the day, and I take my bottled water and stop and refill when needed, but I'd much rather walk in the heat than in the cold, and certainly much prefer the heat over any kind of significant wind.
       The living is easy in summer, as the song from the opera/movie Porgy and Bess says. No school, no pressure, no agenda ... and lots of baseball. How good can life be?
       If summer never ended, that would be OK with me. If I was close enough to a pond or lake so I could go fishing on summer days, that would be even better.
       Yes, our enchanting mistress -- football -- with her violent nature, awaits, but I can do without for a couple more months. (I'll be ready to watch by Aug. 31, promise; as for the NFL season, considering the state of the Cowboys, why bother?)
       But summer brings out my nostalgic side, thinking of those days as a kid. Bear with me.
       In planning this piece, I got to thinking about summer songs. A few come to mind immediately, but then I did a little checking. So here's a list of my favorites, which includes a bunch of '50s, '60s and '70s hits, all with "summer" in the title:
       Summertime (from Porgy and Bess); Crazy Days of Summer (Nat King Cole); Summertime, Summertime (sum, sum, summertime) (The Jamies); Summer in the City (The Lovin' Spoonful); In The Summertime (Mungo Jerry ... Mungo Jerry?); Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly & The Family Stone); Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts); A Summer Song (Chad and Jeremy); Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran); Theme From a Summer Place (instrumental, Percy Faith Orchestra; vocal, The Lettermen or Andy Williams or ...); Summer Nights (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Grease).
       And the beautiful, haunting movie Summer of '42, with its memorable theme song, and its beautiful star, Jennifer O'Neill. I always wish I could have been her co-star.
       And your favorite is ...
       The kids, now grown-up kids, on the Facebook pages Sunset Acres Elementary School and Sunset Acres Neighborhood, reminded me of some of what is was like in those carefree days of the 1950s and '60s.
       One friend joked that at the start of summer he'd kick off his shoes and wouldn't wear them again until early September when school started back. My wife says they didn't even have shoes out where she lived in rural Jamestown (she's kidding ... I think).
       If houses had air conditioning, it might be one or two window units. So what? We rarely stayed inside. We were always out playing in the street or on the school grounds looking for a pickup baseball game, or as I've written previously, playing wiffle ball in the middle of 100-degree days.
       Riding our bikes, covering every street of the neighborhood and beyond. Riding, always riding.
       Stopping daily at the new bowling alley or the new branch library, or waiting -- impatiently -- for the sound of the ice cream truck, that had those push-up sherberts and Eskimos Pies and Dixie cups, etc. Loved those treats.
       Daily knocks on the door in early summer from "recruiters" for Vacation Bible School or from the young Mormon students on their missions. Daily loud sonic booms, or so it seemed (always disconcerting). 
       How about the fog machines running the neighborhood in early evenings, spreading pesticides to combat the mosquitos? Sunset Acres needed them because the canal -- our infamous canal -- was a breeding ground. But kids running behind the foggers? Not me, thank you.
       SPAR had recreational facilities around town where you could play checkers, or shuffleboard, or ping-pong. But the best recreation was swimming.
       So many of us learned to swim at the Cedar Grove pool; that was the closest Shreveport Parks and Recreation (SPAR) facility then. Then in about 1960, SPAR built a pool and a covered (half-dome) basketball court and a kids baseball/adult softball field right next to Oak Terrace Junior High, which opened in the fall 1959. How lucky for us.
       Can't tell you how many hours we spent playing basketball on that court, with the metal backboards and chain nets -- just me, Johnny Tucker and Terry Tucker in one-on-one battles. Can't tell you how many nights I watched SPAR baseball games (midget leagues, ages 9-12) and fastpitch softball games at that Oak Terrace diamond.
       More on softball in a moment. Of all the things summer meant to me, baseball was the best.  Still is.
       First to follow your team, in my case, the New York Yankees -- on TV, maybe on the Game of the Week (yes, one game a week on TV), or by reading the newspaper daily. Still nothing like following that one team's every-day adventures, from April through October.
       For us, too, in Shreveport, there were the Texas League's Sports through the 1950s and, after a one-year lapse (1958), in the Southern Association (1959-61). We loved those teams and those guys, kept up with them even after they left Shreveport, many of them headed for the major leagues, some for fame, others for so-so careers.
       Pro baseball went away for six years, then returned in '68, and we kept rooting for the Braves, Captains, Swamp Dragons, whatever, each summer. I would go from being a Knothole Gang kid  to covering the team as a sports writer and, for four years, working parttime for the team.
       Many of Shreveport's boys of the '50s and '60s played Midget ball, then Junior B. At most of the familiar parks around town -- Cedar Grove and Queensborough were the two main sites -- that meant games (with time limits) starting at 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m.
       Oh, those days we had games scheduled, I'd watch the weather, hoping it wouldn't rain. You knew a good afternoon shower meant a rainout (no tarps for those rec fields).
       (Now, with the near-drought conditions in Texas, I wouldn't mind a little rain each day.)
       If you were good enough, you went on to play Junior A ball (15-16-year-olds) at the bigger ballparks such as Centenary and SPAR Stadium. By then, I was keeping score.
       And I would keep score, and begin covering American Legion games for the newspaper, for the next dozen years or so. Then, later in life, I was keeping score for Texas League and Southern League games, and writing about games for newspapers.
       Because of the Oak Terrace diamond, I became a fan of fastpitch softball in the early 1960s. Fastpitch was extremely popular then; a lot of the young men who had grown up playing baseball in the 1940s and '50s gravitated to fastpitch softball. Shreveport's rec leagues were quite competitive.
       Fastpitch was dominated by pitchers, who from 43 feet away, could whip those softballs underhanded that batters were often lucky just to make contact. No radar guns then and I don't know the speeds of the pitches, but I read that it was the equivalent of 125 mph. If you had, say, three or four runs a game, it was a slugfest.
       I'm writing about softball because it reminds me of the Fourth of July. That was the day of the Ark-La-Tex softball tournament.
       Every year, from the early 1950s through the end of the '60s, the Ark-La-Tex softball tournament was THE summer sports event in Shreveport. There would be 40-60 teams from our area and the state and sometimes far beyond playing games from dawn at several locations in town.
       It was a highly coveted event, with the semifinals played at one location and the championship game at night at Princess Park, at the edge of downtown next to SPAR headquarters and the train station.
       The Oak Terrace field was one of the sites for early round games. We'd watch three or four games there and a couple of years, we went downtown to see the title game. One year, 1963, a team from Lecompte, La. -- near Alexandria -- was totally unheralded when it began play at our field, and wound up winning the tournament.
       Fastpitch softball declined in popularity, though, near the end of the 1960s when slowpitch softball became the rage for Everyman. But I can't forget the softball fix on Fourth of July.
       The Yankees are still my priority in sports through the summer and into fall (no matter how long this summer appears to be). Wimbledon's good, and so are golf's  U.S. Open and British Open and, of course, soccer's World Cup every fourth year, but baseball remains my love.
       Summer nowadays means early daily walks, trips to the apartment pool, and reading sessions here at home and at Barnes & Noble just a five-minute walk away, listening to '50s-'60s-'70s, grocery shopping and (not enough) visits with the kids and grandkids. Plus, it's always good to see or talk to old friends.
       And if the weather is hot, and it rains just a little, that's fine with me. Tune up one of those summer songs, please.             


  1. From Jimmie Cox: As always, you bring back so many good memories of summer in Sunset Acres. I remember going to Cedar Grove to watch baseball and to hang out at the pool/park; the Oak Terrace park hadn't been built yet. Yes, I also recall the single window AC unit at our house. Do you also remember the big water chillers (a treat was when Daddy would go to the ice house and get a block of ice on Saturday and put it in). Wow, what a treat.

  2. From Skip Young: Excellent writing. I once tried to climb that dome (at Oak Terrace); don't think I quite made it. I also got blacktop stains on my legs from being thrown trying to ride the hood of a truck on the parking lot.

  3. From Harlan Alexander: What I would give to be able to spend another Saturday afternoon with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese and the Falstaff game of the week.

  4. From Ike Futch: You two are really bringing back some wonderful summer memories of the '50s and '60s.

  5. From Keith Annison: This sure brings back memories of Shreveport summers; the only thing you forgot was the Dairy Queen. ... Great job.

  6. From Tom Marshall: Nico, great as always. I really remember those July 4 softball tournaments. We watched at AC Steere. I never made it to Princess Park for the championship. I do recall seeing The King and His Court, though. As I recall Eddie Feigner sometimes pitched blindfolded!

  7. From Mickey Lowe: Good article about the good ol' days back when kids could be kids. You were talking about the fastpitch teams that played in the Fourth of July tournament. ... This area had some great teams. Fastpitch softball was the reason I came home after service. Major Wolfe was the coach of the Police team when I worked Princess Park in '65 and he took an interest in me and came to all my Legion games. He told me that when I turned 21 he wanted me to join the Police force and play ball for him. Well, when I turned 21 I was on a patrol boat six miles south of the DMZ. He passed away before I could play for him. But I did join the Police Dept. and did get to play fastpitch for the Police team and our team was made up of firemen and policemen. I am like you, the stories summer can tell.

  8. From Joseph Lowrey: Lived there. Did that. What great memories.

  9. From Pamela Summerlin: Can't remember if I personally ran (biked) behind the foggers; maybe I did and that's why I can't remember doing it?

  10. From Larry Fertitta: Fine article about Shreveport summers, a little before my time but I do remember the days from SPAR Stadium with the Shreveport Braves/Captains and featuring Dick "Ace" Towery, Taylor Moore et al.

  11. From Pam Shaw White: In summertime we would crawl up under the house where it was cool and play. I'm sure parents today would be horrified of the filth we played in. Loved knowing all the neighbors and hardly ever being indoors. I believe we were more healthy and happy. Even though I had an alcoholic father, I still remember my life outside of home being great. Walking or riding bikes everywhere. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.