For The Love Of Baseball
Paul Marion Fleetwood
© Copyright 2020 by Paul Marion Fleetwood
I want to tell my greatgrandkids about my love of BASEBALL and how it came to be. It is a rather long story but I want them to know how I came to love the game and enjoy it all of my life.
At the time of starting this real life story I am 86 years old. Still in good health and still loving the game even though my beloved St. Louis Cardinals just got beat out of the 2016 play-offs by one thin game.
My first recollection of the Cardinals was when I was about 13 years old. My family had recently moved to East Texas in the Piney woods area. We lived in a small rundown shack in Clayton Texas near Carthage where I later went to High School.
One night my dad dug out an old battery operated radio that he had brought to Texas from Northeast Arkansas and was trying to get it to work. Now this was before TV and not many radio stations were available in rural areas very far from a city. He plugged in the old batteries that we had and turned it on but it did'nt work. So the started poking around in it with a screw driver, not knowing what he was doing, pretty soon it was smoking. But lo and behold it started working and we were picking up a station from Shreveport Louisiana.
The first words I heard were "ground ball to Marion, he fields and throws, he's out!". I had no idea who Marion was but I found out after listening some more that He was the shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Now the funny thing is; my dad's first name was Marion so my first image of Marty Marion was that he was a short man like my dad. I think Marty Marion was actually at least 6 feet and 4 inches tall. I found that out later several years later but that is getting ahead of my story.
Now as I look back on my life I see this as just another thread of Providence that God has woven in to the fabric of my life. And a beautiful fabric it is.
A few years later when I was seventeen and a senior in High School I played sports. In High School I played football, volley ball, horse shoes, etc but never played baseball. Football was "King" in Texas so I didn't know much about baseball except the basics. I never missed a school football game and sat through more than one rainstorm to see the Carthage Bulldogs play.
After school and on weekends when I didn't have to work I played with the neighborhood kids sandlot football and if we couldn't get up a team we would just punt the ball back and forth. Until one day I noticed that it hurt my toe when I kicked the ball.
At first I didn't know what was wrong but it became apparent pretty soon that something more than a sore toe was wrong. After a few days the soreness and swelling ached and then it moved up to my ankle. Then it went to my right knee and proceed to go through every joint in my body.Up the right side joint by joint until it finally left through my left big toe. Local doctors couldn't identify the problem. I was bedridden for some time when finally my parents decided to send me to a major medical center to see if a larger medical center could diagnose my condition.
But there was a big problem. My parents were basically penniless. Medical insurance was not common back then so finally they decided to send me to my Grandmothers' house in Southern Missouri near the small town of Doniphan. Then from there on to St. Louis Missouri which was a major medical center. My mom had two sisters that lived and worked in St. Louis so I would have a place to stay.
My children you may wonder why I didn't go to Dallas or to Houston; both of which are major medical centers today and much closer to where we lived in Texas. Well they weren't back in early 1940's and in any case I wouldn't have a place to stay there. So I eventually ended up in St. Louis in early March of 1947. How I got there and what happened along the way is another story I will try to write later.
I moved in with my Aunt Hazel and uncle Earnest. Uncle Earnie was a barber and I don't remember where Aunt Hazel worked. I slept on a couch in the front room of a 3 room first floor flat on the couch. It was a cold wet Spring and very gloomy. I was lonely and homesick and scared. I wanted to go out side and meet some kids to play with but it was rainy and drizzly and of course the kids were in school.
The sights and sounds of the city were so different from the quiet country life expecially after dark. There the cars, busses, and all kinds of other stuff kept going right past the front door all night long it seemed like.
But as time went by I adjusted somewhat and when a warmer or sunny day would come I would go out and walk around the block. Not far because I didn't want to get lost. So each day I would extend my walk a little farther. First around one block and then around two blocks and eventually around 8 to 10 blocks at a time. I felt perfectly safe walking but I surely wouldn't do that today because that part of the city is now very dangerous.
I was still not well at all but then once again Providence (you know what I mean) blessed me. One day while walking I passed a clinic named "The Grace Hill House Clinic". I supposed it to be a Catholic Clinic but it turned out to be a charity based Episcopal Clinic. Of course I didn't know anything at the time but I went inside and just sat down in the waiting room. After a while nurse asked me why I was there and I told her I needed help. She took me in another room where a Doctor examined me.
The Doctor must have deduced that I had Rheumatic Fever brought on by Strep throat caused by bad tonsils and adenoids. He put me in St. Lukes old hospital on Grand avenue in order to remove my tonsils and adenoids. Then just at the right time for my life penicillin had been invented during World War II. After giving me shots every three hours night and day for two weeks I started feeling like a 17 year old boy should feel. I felt like chasing one cute little nurse up and down the ward I was in.
They removed my tonsils and after a couple of weeks they released me back to my Aunt Hazel. But then after the soreness mostly went away I foolishly tried to eat a hot tamale when a street vendor came by one evening. I didn't know I had a problem until I woke up about two in the morning throwing up blood I had swallowed while asleep caused by a hemorrage.
It was scary! At two or three in the morning I needed help fast. My Aunt didn't really know what to do so they took me back to the Hospital. We went in and they sat me down in a chair and a nurse started talking to us. Soon she called a doctor and they were examining me when I started passing out. I heard them say "he has lost a lot of blood" and then I started going down into this dark hole. Down, down, down but I could see the light at the top of the hole getting dimmer and dimmer. I thought "if the light goes out I'm dead" so I fought and fought to keep it from going out. After eons of time it seemed I started going back toward the light and finally came to. I must have fought a valiant fight because my persperation had made a big puddle under my chair.
After a couple of weeks they released me and I returned to Aunt Hazel's house. The doctor told me I probably never be able to hold down a job because of my heart.
My Aunt Jewel lived down the street just half a block away. My first cousin Jetty lived with her and she was my age so after a while I moved in with them. Just the three of us. I didn't do hardly anything for a while. When I would walk across the floor my heart would pound and they would scare me. This went on for sometime. Finally the Spring weather came and I saw kids out heading for the park with their bats, balls, and gloves.
I decided that if I was going to die I would play anyway. I didn't want to be a burden to my family. So I got a baseball glove and headed for the park. I got on our neighborhood team and played ball from morning untill night and I didn't die. I actually felt better and better and started learning how to pitch.
We lived almost within walking distance of Sportsman Park where the St. Louis Cardinals played and the St. Louis Browns also played there. Both teams would sometimes give free knothole tickets to kids. I got to see a lot of baseball that Summer and fell in love with the Cardinals who had a great team. They had won the World Series the year before (1946) with an exciting victory over the Boston Red Sox. In 1947 they finished one game behind the Dodgers when Jackie Robinson came up to the majors.
The Cardinals had a powerhouse team too that was made up of some of their greatest players. Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Terry Moore, Red Schoendienst, Whitey Kurowski, Joe Garagiola, and of course Marty Marion at shortstop. Lord how I loved that team.
At the end of Summer I returned to Texas and started my Senior year of High School. I remember buying and taking back home 45 RPM records by Doris Day and Frankie Laine who were popular singers that Summer. They weren't popular yet in Texas and I loved them.
Now here is how a seventeen year old kid thinks. My plan when I finished High School was to join the Navy but if I joined in Texas they would send me to San Diego for training. But if I joined in St. Louis they would send me to the Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago. Chicago had the Cubs baseball team that the Cardinals played several times a year. So I reasoned if I joined in St. Louis and went to the Chicago area I might get to see the Cardinals a few times each year. How childish huh?
So when I graduated in 1948 I returned to St. Louis and moved in with aunt Jewel. I was still seventeen until July 23 so I pondered what to do. Instead of joining the Navy right away I found a job with International Shoe Co. on South Broadway near the Budweiser Brewery making a whopping 72 and one half cents per hour. It was enough to pay aunt Jewel 7 dollars a week for room and board and send mom and day, who had moved back to Doniphan, 5 dollars a week. The rest went for expenses to get to work and some mad money.
Of course the Cardinals were playing just a few blocks away. And I got back on the baseball team as a pitcher and learned to throw a knuckle ball. So I soon forgot about joining the Navy. I did have two younger brothers that did join the Navy later on. Billy and Kenny.
That Spring we couldn't wait for it to get warm enough to play baseball. So I organized a team from the neighborhood. We named it the Cadillac Athletic Club. Then we joined the Khoury League. I was not big and I was not fast but I had good hand-eye coordination and could throw strikes as a pitcher. I couldn't throw very hard and and only had a dinky little curve ball but I had a secret weapon. A knuckle ball. Even after studying college physics I still don't quite understand what causes the ball to jump around like it does. If the ball doesn't spin it is unstable and will dart off in one direction or the other especially if there is a little bit of wind blowing. I understand that is why they put rifling in a gun barrel to spin up the bullet to keep it stable.
I'll never forget that first Spring when we first started warming up I was playing toss with my Catcher to be. After warming up my arm which had been pretty much idle all winter I decided to try the "knuckler". I threw one to my Catcher Fred and it broke hard to his right and he couldn't reach it. He shouted "what was that". I had a lump in my throat. I said it knuckled and no body could hit that. He said you can't catch it either.
Well I worked on that pitch until I could get it over the plate consistently before we started playing regular games. In an early game before the regular season games started we played a men's team in Fairgrounds Park near the old Sportsman Park where the St. Louis Cardinals played. In that game I struckout the first 8 batters. I was in Heaven!!
Alas. Heaven was not to last very long. I got hit on my right elbow and hurt my arm to the point where my Knucklyball was not very effective. But we continued to play and have fun and won our share of the games. I remember pitching in a game at Jefferson Barracks against a good team and Cardinal scouts were there. They signed up two players on the other team. I lost 3 to 2. If only I whould have been able to throw my knuckler like I had before.
That was in 1948. As I finally finish this story it is April 19, 2020. I have been a baseball fan all my life. I'll be 90 years old in a couple of months. If I make it to 100 I will still be a baseball fan. I love it!!!!
My Great Grand Kids all call me "Pawpaw Bob"
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