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Tag: Little League Baseball

Short Stories: My Love Affair with Baseball

cincinnati reds gnome
Cincinnati Reds Gnome that Graces our Front Yard

In 1962, the Gerencser family moved from the rural northwest Ohio community of Bryan to San Diego, California. I was five. My grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, and her daughter, Marijene also moved to the Golden State. That summer, for my birthday, Grandma bought me a baseball glove, ball, and hat, and took me to my first game. On the appointed day, Grandma picked me up — not my sister, not my brother, just me — and drove us to Lane Field to watch the San Diego Padres play — then the AAA minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

I don’t remember anything about the game, but I have no doubt I spent the evening listening to Grandma explain the game to me. You see, she was an avid baseball fan, having attended numerous Detroit Tigers baseball games with her attorney father as a child. Grandma, like her father before her, was a Detroit Tigers fan.

In fourth grade, I was given an assignment to write a story about an experience one of my grandparents had. Grandma Rausch was my favorite grandparent, really my only grandparent. I asked Grandma to tell me about seeing Babe Ruth play, which became the story I shared with my class.

I became the third generation to root for the Tigers. My grandfather, John Tieken, with whom I had a difficult relationship, was also a Tigers fan. For my eleventh birthday, Grandpa took me to a baseball game at Briggs Stadium between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the World Series.

Here’s the box score for the game:

tigers indians 1968

I played baseball from the age of nine through fifteen. I was a diminutive child, a lefthanded boy who was fleet a foot but couldn’t hit a breaking ball to save his life. I was good enough to make the team, but usually one of the last few boys chosen. I played outfield and was often put in the game to bunt. Being a fast-running lefty gave me a distinct advantage, but more than a few pitchers I faced had difficulties pitching to left-handers. Instead of hits, I got plunked in the back, ribs, buttocks, and head. A hitter I was not, but I did make a good target for wild opposing pitchers.

The summer between eighth and ninth grades, I started having problems fielding the ball, so much so that I feared coach was going to cut me. Instead, he said to me, “Hey, Gerencser. You need to get your eyes checked.” Sure enough, I was nearsighted. Glasses fixed my fielding problem, but I still couldn’t hit a curve ball.

My dad never attended my games; whether he was too busy or disinterested, I do not know. Lacking transportation, I rode my bike to my home games. For out-of-town games, I caught a ride with one of my coaches. Mom attended a few of my games. One summer, I was playing high school summer league baseball for Jaques Sporting Goods in Findlay, Ohio. On July Fourth, I played in a game against North Baltimore. Mom and Grandma attended the game. I played a few innings. I even had one attempt to showcase my batting prowess. Grandma was sitting along the baseline on a blanket, cheering me on. As I came up to bat, I heard Mom and Grandma loudly cheering for me, especially Grandma. While she was a small woman, weighing less than a hundred pounds, she had a loud voice, one made raspy from decades of smoking cigarettes. I took a couple of pitches — balls — swung and missed a couple of strikes, and then came the deciding pitch, a breaking ball — a called strike three. Before I could even turn, with head hung low, from the batter’s box, I heard — well, everyone heard — “Hey Ump! That was not a strike!” That was Grandma, defending her oldest grandson to the end.

I stopped playing baseball after tenth grade. Too many moves and new schools for me to make a team and play. As an adult, I turned to competitive slow-pitch softball for my baseball fix, a sport I played into my early thirties.

Like my great-grandfather, grandmother, and grandfather before me, I was a Detroit Tigers fan. I would remain a Tigers fan until 1980. By then, I was married with one child, and living in Newark, Ohio. I took a job as a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips — a popular fast-food chain at the time. I did my training at the Heath store and worked as an assistant manager there for a few months before I got a store of my own in Reynoldsburg. My fellow assistant was Neal Ball, a newly married man my age. We quickly became close friends, playing basketball together, eating dinner at one another’s homes, and, most importantly, attending Cincinnati Reds baseball games.

Neal was an avid Reds fan. He lived and breathed the Redlegs. His infectious love for the Reds wore off on me, and it was not long before I had a conversion of sorts, and switched teams. I was now a Reds fan, and I remain one to this day. While I still follow the Tigers from a distance, the Reds are my team. I have watched thousands of their games on TV or listened to them on their flagship station, 700-WLW. My three oldest sons have fond memories of me listening to nightly games on a portable AM-FM radio. We lived in a mobile home at the time. The trailer’s metal exterior made it impossible to get an AM radio signal inside, so I would either sit on the porch and listen to the game or put the metal coat hanger attached to the broken antenna outside of the living room window so I could get the signal. When I was out and about doing the Lord’s work on summer evenings, the game was always on the car radio, with Marty and Joe broadcasting the game.

Forty-three summers have come and gone, and I remain a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. The game is on the TV as I write this post. Our children are all Reds fans, though some of them are not as committed to the family religion as their father. The third generation has also embraced the Reds — as if they had any choice. đŸ™‚ One of our granddaughters is named Morgan Rose. That will tell you everything you need to know about the Gerencser family’s love for Cincinnati baseball — even when the Reds suck.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Short Stories: The Summer of 1968: Little League Baseball and Dad’s Corvair

bruce gerencser eighth grade
Summer of my eighth-grade year, with my mom and a friend (that’s a Rambler in the background) My mom is five foot eight, so as you can see I was quite short at this age.

In 2018, I attended my oldest grandson’s Little League baseball game at the Ney park. In 2007, my wife and I bought a home in Ney, three blocks from the park. Ney is little more than a spot along Route 15, home to one stoplight, one bar/restaurant, one gas station, and 356 people. The park has several ball fields, one of which is used to play youth league baseball games. What makes Ney’s field unique is that it has lights. My grandson’s game had an eight o’clock start time, meaning that part of the game would be played under the not-so-bright lights. A half-hour before game time, I gathered up my Sony camera, lenses, and tripod (which I since sold because my health precludes me from doing photography work), my water bottle, and my oversized lawn chair and headed down to the park. Bethany, my oldest daughter who has Down syndrome, gathered up her purse, water bottle, and backpack — filled with coloring books, colored pencils, and crayons – and headed down to the park with me.

I positioned myself just beyond the first baseline so I could photograph the action. My grandson played for Tinora — a school district north of Defiance. Their adversary for the night was a team of players made up of boys from Ney and the surrounding area. As I surveyed Ney’s players, I noticed that one of them, who was of slight build, had fiery red hair. Seeing this boy brought memories of another redheaded boy who played under the lights on this very field fifty-five years ago. In the spring of my fifth-grade year, my dad moved us from Harrod, Ohio to Farmer, a small community five miles west of Ney. We moved into a farmhouse two miles outside of Farmer, a home owned by my dad’s sister and brother-in-law, Paul and Mary Daugherty. We would live there for two summers. During these summers, I played baseball for the Farmer Tigers. Back in the 1960s, country boys roamed the countryside, rode their bikes, went swimming, and if they were lucky, played baseball. I was never a great baseball player. If fifteen players were being picked for a team, I was always one of the last boys chosen. I had two things going for me: I was left-handed and I was a fast runner. By the time I made the Farmer team, I had already developed bad habits that hurt my ability to hit a baseball. These bad habits would follow me through Little League and into summer league high school baseball. Being slight of build and left-handed, I stood close to the plate when I batted. This made me an easy target for balls thrown by wild pitchers who were not used to throwing to left-handed batters. Over the course of the four years I played Little League baseball, I repeatedly got plunked in the head, back, and legs with wildly thrown pitches. These repeated beanings made me gun-shy, and my inability to stand in there and hit the ball turned me into an offensive liability. My coach for the two years I played for Farmer decided the best approach for my lack of offensive prowess was to have me bunt and run like hell. I was fast on my feet, and as a left-hander, I was two steps closer to first base than a right-handed batter.

I don’t remember my parents ever attending my games while I played for Farmer. On occasion, my father would pick me up after a game and take me home, especially if it was late and I would have to ride my bike home after dark. One night, Dad came to pick me up with his blue Corvair. For those not familiar with the Chevrolet Corvair, its motor was in the rear and its trunk was at the front. Dad opened the trunk so he could put my bicycle away. After doing so he shut the trunk so we could be on our way. For some reason, the trunk wouldn’t latch. After several attempts to get the trunk to latch shut, dad came up with an ingenious plan: he would have me lie down in the trunk and hold it down while he drove us home. And that’s what we did. At the time, I saw my ride in the trunk as a great adventure; and indeed it was, as we bounced down Route 249 to our home. I suspect if my dad did the same thing today, child protective services would be paying him a visit the next day. I am sure some of the parents of my fellow baseball players wondered what Bob Gerencser was up to. Who in their right mind puts their son in the trunk? Right mind or not, this redheaded old man has never forgotten his ride home in the summer of 1968 — a time when war raged in Vietnam, race riots inflamed American cities, and assassins’ bullets claimed Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. This remains one of the few “good” memories I have of my father.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser