Happy birthday, Dad. Let’s play
It was perfectly Johnny Max.
I pondered for an instant being angry but opted instead for a smile. And thanks.
It was ages ago that my parents found their way to Dolese Park in Oklahoma City and watched me umpire a small-school state tournament baseball game. It was, if I remember correctly, one of my last small-school ventures at state.
“You missed that call,” he said during our post-game dinner.
I wanted to tell him he was nothing more than just another fan but realized that was not the case.
This was my dad.
A man of great stride and a love for baseball.
He played the game when he was younger. Not a great player, I understand. But his love for the game remained vibrant even during his latter years.
I can remember some of the stories he told me. Particularly the one about when he and Mom, newlyweds, were returning to Smallville after a trip to somewhere.
An American Legion game was going on in the stadium — the one his father designed and built — and it was nearing the late innings.
“I’ll have Dad bring me home,” he told my mother.
Three hours later, the story goes, he arrived home.
Mother, naturally, was angry.
Dad explained to her the game went 22 innings. Or something like that.
The story got a little fuzzier and the records were changed as time passed.
Anyway, at that time, he said, it was the longest American Legion game in history.
I remembered that one night when I had the stick in a Legion game between Owasso and Claremore.
That one — filled with future professional and college players — went 14 innings.
I returned to the Oklahoma City area on Thursday. Sigh.
It was my final gig of the year, the Class A fall baseball state tournament.
Oktaha v. Silo and Tushk v. Stonewall.
Yes. Those are real towns. Small towns but real in the world — mostly in the southeast corner of the state — of too-small-for-football baseball.
Played in the fall.
Begins about mid-August. Ends about mid-October.
My first state tournament — they now number into the 30s — was in the fall. At Prague, of all places.
I learned then how fun fall baseball could be.
Small schools mean fewer talents on the field at once. Fewer talented hitters in lineups.
After about four of five hitters, strikeouts become the norm.
Fast games become the norm.
As we say in umpspeak, it’s like “stealing money.”
“Hobart Bearcats bowed to a rangy Lone Wolf nine Tuesday afternoon on the local baseball diamond, 17 to 5, but may have uncovered a new pitcher in the process.”
The story in the Hobart Democrat-Chief was published sometime after the April 4, 1944 game.
It went on in colorful writing style to discuss “four hurlers” in an effort to “stem the marauding Coyete hitting spree.”
It never says which of the four was uncovered.
Johnny Max Perry, during one inning of pitching, walked three men and struck out one.
I presume he was not the uncovered ace.
The story was adjacent one with the title “Eggs In Lockers Will ‘Come in Handy’ Later. “Lone Wolf Wins Here” was above a United Press International story entitled “Rumania Reported Seeking Armistice”
Different times. Different newspaper styles.
“Joe McLaughlin, in to relieve (Nick Petkoff), yielded one walk, no hits and struck out one batter.”
Maybe ol’ Joe was the hurler uncovered.
I will look for him in the stands at Moore. Knowing full well he will not be there.
He died in 18 years ago. Wednesday would have been his 90th birthday.
I miss him more by the minute.
He could be difficult, as all will agree. But he was a caring, concerned man who did his best to do right for others.
More than one friend has told me, “He saved my life.”
He got smarter as I got older.
Today, no doubt, he will tell me I kicked a call.
I will smile.