Memory Lane: Hope Springs Eternal
By Daniel Jeffrey
It must have been 1957 or ’58. I always loved baseball, though this chubby short lefty never quite took up the sport as a youth. There I was with the local mortician, his son and my best friend Bill at old Crosley Field. Mr. R drove us to the game on a bright summer day in Cincinnati, apparently his ‘customers’ would wait and be patient for his return to the funeral home. That was an old joke that never got old. Mr. R. was quite the driver, as I recall, in his big black Cadillac. No expressways just yet, he was all gas and brakes, tossing the three of us around like billiard balls on the drive downtown. Past the peanut vendors, ushers with flat-topped white hats and cigar smoke wafting in the air, we took our seats down the right field line, far away from the batters’ box. We were playing the Phillies that day.
It was about the fifth inning when future Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn came to the plate. After a few pitches he lined a bullet in my direction. Stepping into the aisle and armed with my trusty old glove, I reached above my head and Bingo! I had caught a scorching line drive from Richie Ashburn. Jumping up and down, running up and down the aisle, I had reached the gates of Heaven at 9 years of age. This was no ordinary foul ball! Richie Ashburn! Not sure if we had ‘high-fives’ back then, but Reds’ fans all around exalted in my joy and congratulated me with gusto. Quickly holding my transistor radio to my ear, I would hear Waite Hoyt, the HOF radio play-by-play voice of the Reds, wail excitedly about ‘that little man’ who made the play of a lifetime! He referred to me as a teenager. I translated that to mean that my baseball skills were way beyond my years, rather than I was probably as big as any teenager he probably knew. A few minutes later, a very happy usher approached me with my “Honorary Contract”. The Reds wanted to sign me! Sure, it was just honorary and just a single sheet of paper that hundreds had received before, but the Reds wanted to sign me!
I carried that baseball in my pocket for two weeks, until my dear mother told me that it was time to enshrine that ball on the fireplace hearth, in a glass dome. And so we did, and for many years I would walk by that symbol of greatness, and salute myself, Mr. R and my buddies, and grow in my love for the game. Somehow “THE” contract was misplaced a few years later, but I can recite its words in my mind even today. It began “The Cincinnati Reds, in recognition of the spirit, tenacity and skills you bring to the sport of baseball, hereby offer ……..” Great times, great days, and the memories and hope for another Reds’ pennant continue to this very day. It again is Spring, and my hopes are soaring. Play Ball!