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The 1965 Eagles

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Essays, Humanities on January 2, 2013 at 8:45 am

Mel Mendenhall was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia.  He lives in Atlanta and is the CEO CLVL Solutions, LLC

Mel Mendenhall

The following essay was composed in 2011, when Gary Levi announced that he had an inoperable brain tumor.  Gary Levi passed away in November 2012.

All of us have known someone who was a particularly good storyteller.  For me, that person was my Dad.  I guess growing up, as my dad did, in the country during the 1920s and early 1930s lent itself to that sort of entertainment: there was no TV, or even radio, back then.  It seemed all of his siblings inherited the storytelling trait, and as children my brothers, sisters, and I enjoyed listening to dad’s siblings’ stories about life on the farm, life in the military (eight brothers and one brother-in-law served in WWII), and life in general.

My Dad coached my first baseball team, the Eagles.  The Eagles I can easily recall are Sim Thomas, Rob Varner, Mac Turner, Johnny Jackson, Gary Levi, Jimmy Monfort, and Johnny Cooper.  In the history of eight-year-old baseball teams, our team, I’m certain, was the cream of the crop – the eight-year-old equivalent to the 1927 Yankees.  What follows is a quick biography of the players at age eight:

Sim Thomas – The star of the team; he did it all.  A true five star player: runs, throws, fields, hits, and hits for power.  He also was our most dominating pitcher, but susceptible to getting frustrated when the umpire’s vision was impaired and strikes were called balls, or so it seemed.  Pitched and played 1st base.

Rob Varner – a solid all around ball player who was reliable in all facets of eight-year-old baseball.  Rob and Sim were both upper classman, 3rd graders, whereas the rest of us were in the second grade.  Rob played third base and catcher.

Mac Turner – A solid second baseman and, like me, a coach’s son.  Mac was from a prominent family that, though wealthy, was very down-to-earth and inclusive.  Mac was always smiling and having a good time on the field and in the dugout.

Johnny Jackson – a really good athlete, muscular fireplug.  He could do it all.  He started out the season as a catcher, but moved to 3rd base after his mom felt – we all felt — that Johnny’s privates were getting a little too beat-up over the course of the season (Casey Stengel didn’t have these parental issues at the MLB level).

Gary Levi – Played left field and was easily our most outwardly enthusiastic player.  Gary woke up fired up and stoked those fires all day long until game time. He had a distinctive way of wearing his hat sideways on his head, with the bill facing left or right, but never straight.  He continuously pounded his glove with his fist while standing in his usual left field spot and giving himself a vehement pep-talk, or, depending on your perspective, “talking to.”

Jimmy Monfort – a very smooth shortstop for an eight-year-old.  He threw right-handed, but batted left-handed, a fact that I thought would look pretty cool on the back of a baseball card.  Jimmy was a sweet swinger who hadn’t yet mastered actual contact, but who looked very good swinging the bat.  There was no question but that he was a ballplayer in the making.

Johnny Cooper – “Cooper” is what we called him.  Did you ever know a kid who always smiled?  It didn’t matter what the circumstance, Cooper was smiling.  Unfortunately, Cooper’s five-year-old athleticism was captured inside an eight-year-old body that quite frankly had not caught up with his fellow 1927 Yankee eight-year-old teammates.  He stood in right field (one couldn’t claim he actually played right field).

The season began, and from the start it was apparent that the Eagles were a team of destiny.  Reporters from all around Columbus, and eventually the entire New York media, or so it seemed to us, followed the team as it plundered through the league beating the Foxes, the Bears, the Cubs, the Lions, and other collective critters.  Simply put, our pitching was dominant and our hitting and fielding were equally good.  Some among us, me included, had to learn to deal with periodic failures where insult was the occasional strike out, which was followed by immediate temper tantrums and tears.  One waiting to bat, or one sitting in the “open air” dugout, needed to stay alert because all of us, without fail, were prone to hurling our bat backwards, towards the dugout, whenever the ump ended our “at bat” with a strike three call.  All of us, of course, except “Cooper,” who always struck out with a smile on his face, and believe me, Cooper always struck out, were given to emotional instability when we ran out of strikes.

As the season went along, we continued to get better and better, and the kids playing on the other teams did as well.  Each team seemed to have a star player or two.  I recall being fascinated with each team’s colors: the Foxes wore red jerseys, the Bears green, the Cubs blue, the Lions a lighter shade of blue.  All teams’ jerseys and caps matched red for red, green for green, blue for blue – you get the picture.  The Eagles, on the other hand, wore the colors of a winner: navy blue with orange letters (like my beloved Auburn).  Would you believe me if I told you I can still smell in my mind’s nose what those jerseys smelled like—I can!—just as I can still smell the freshly mowed grass, or in the outfield, the stubble of weeds. Read the rest of this entry »

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