I often find interesting the thoughts and memories that pop into my head as I make the morning transition from asleep to awake.
Thursday morning, having played a ballgame the night before, I woke up thinking about repairing a small crack I had noticed in the handle of my George Brett model Louisville Slugger; its size and location mean a few wraps of adhesive tape should put the bat right.
The tiny fracture caused me to recall a couple incidents from my eighth-grade baseball season at Rowe Junior High in Milwaukie; I hadn’t thought of either of them in decades, but Thursday morning, there they were.
The eighth-grade coach at Rowe was a social studies teacher named Brian Kleiner who actually liked basketball a lot better than baseball and I think fancied himself as something of a junior high version of John Wooden, minus the pyramid of success.
I actually liked Mr. Kleiner pretty well; as with many teachers of that era, he tended toward gruff and authoritative, but in a friendlier way than some.
One day in the gym, as we assembled before going out to the field, Coach Kleiner was demonstrating, as best he could, the proper technique for bunting when he abruptly noticed a flaw in the lumber he was using as the prop.
“That’s a cracked bat,” he said, and dropped the thing in disgust; it hit the floor with an angry clatter, and he walked off.
What’s the big deal, I remember thinking. It wasn’t like he was going to hit a ball with it. I guess the only explanation is that Coach Kleiner could be just a bit tightly wound at times.
Prior to our first game, Coach passed out our uniforms, which included really cool green and white caps with the letter R on them. All of this stuff was school property, and we were instructed only to wear it for games.
I guess back then I was sort of iffy when it came to following instructions, because I think the very next day, a Saturday, I donned my cap for a trip to Caplan’s Sporting Goods in downtown Portland — where, as luck would have it, I ran into Coach Kleiner.
Wonderful, I remember thinking, and pondered what my punishment would end up being for unauthorized hat usage.
If memory serves, it was that I was left off the list of guys who would be suiting up for the opener, even though I was one of the half-dozen best players among those who had turned out for the team. And I seem to remember Coach Kleiner telling me at some point, “I saw you with your hat on at Caplan’s.”
Funny thing is, I remember almost nothing about that season except for the cracked bat, the illegal hat, the Beech-Nut tobacco our first baseman Ed Yeaman chewed (it was 1976 after all, a much less sensitive time), and a spectacular running catch in center field made by a guy named Paul McDonald who looked about 25 years old.
Speaking of old, here’s today’s Catch of the Day, No. 16, a rare 50-year-old Wilson A2001. It’s a slightly smaller version of the fabled A2000; Wilson made it for a few years at the request of White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox, and I picked this up last spring for $30 at PIA Sports in Corvallis: