Our family has always loved baseball. Our dad, Virgil Nipper, was always at the ballpark playing, coaching, or watching; one or all of us were usually with him. Mom said that when he was playing City League ball she was either at Shelby, Centennial, or Morgan Park watching him play nearly every Saturday and Sunday.
Mom didn’t stand a chance of not enjoying baseball. If she didn’t love baseball when she and dad met, she learned to love it. I understand dad was pretty good and was bound and determined to teach his boys how to play.
My brother Jim (“Jimbo”, to me, mostly shortened to just “Bo”) and I were taught everything there was to know about The Game: how to throw, certainly, and how to hit. I wasn’t that great at either one, but Jim had a strong arm and always could knock the ball out of the park. My shortcomings (“weak arm, average hitter” is bound to have been written on some scout’s notes) are blamed on my being left-handed.
Besides, I wore glasses. No, wait. Come to think of it, my brother did too, so I can’t use that excuse. He was just better.
There’s something else Bo is better at, too. He is pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Johnson City, Tennessee and a blessing to not only his parishioners but to his family as well.
Have a theological question around the dinner table? For over thirty years discussions about religion have often been intermingled with baseball and other sports.
I admire his perception about life’s experiences; always have, always will. I suppose he enjoys our chats about baseball, too, and I am grateful that we have a relationship beyond those subjects.
A few weeks ago I came across a bat that was autographed by our grandfather, Jack Waddell, who was a sporting goods sales rep and another great influence on our lives. I posted an image of the bat on various social media outlets, and a few days later Jim sent me one of his unique perspectives of our lives at the ballpark.
To explain the setting for the content of his letter: Dad was one of the organizers of the Little League park that was built at the entrance to Shelby Park and sponsored by the Downtown Optimist Club back in the early 1960s. It was another time when our family was at the ballpark; not necessarily playing, but being there while dad and other Optimist Club members were installing fences, sowing grass seed, setting up irrigation, and building a concession stand.
We played there, too, and after our Little League days Dad coached both of us in amateur ball in games all around Nashville. Shelby Park, right next to the Cumberland River, was our “home” park. I’m sure there is still a bit of Nipper DNA in the dirt there.
Bo remembers many things much better than I do (remember, I’m left handed) and his letter helped me to recall an earlier, more peaceful time. I hope it does the same for you:
“I looked at the bat you had on Facebook, and, for the first time in many years, I really missed baseball…..
“Not baseball as it is today, but, as it was….
“Simpler. No frills, just right…..
“Just dust and dirt and grass and heat on hazy Saturday mornings; and the lights at night time, with the bugs climbing up into the light, ascending then descending in an awkward, erratic way – like they don’t really know where to go, but didn’t ever want to leave. The humid air from the Cumberland, made homers die and liners float, the sound of the bat connecting with that ball was a sound that still rings in the heart of my ears. The hard run to first, or, the slide into second, and a fresh dirt stain to match the one of grass I received robbing a kid of his double in his first at bat. The next time he stood in the box he gave me a stare of hate that only lasted until he swung a third strike and twisted and fell trying to kill that ol’ horsehide. Even his own teammates laughed him down from his anger, to where even he had to smile underneath that helmet that had slid down over his slightly freckled face, a toothy grin – wiped quickly away so as to not admit defeat or so that his daddy wouldn’t swat him once he got home.
“Those real dugouts, with steps down into that dirt, not like other ones just built in top of the ground. Those dungeony, clammy holes in the ground, where we sat on benches of wood, splinters and all, telling jokes and losing interest when the team was out on the field, waking up from our stupor when a foul ball would rake across the screen of our dugout. Then – we ‘d sit up straight and acted like we had good sense and cared about what just happened!
“We were the coolest in our button-up uniforms and tight-hosed socks, with tightly tied shoelaces so that there weren’t any trips stretching a single into something else.
“The smell of those concessions: hotdogs, popcorn, the sound of the ice shaver making snow cones, and of course, the Double Bubble, gum that ended stuck to a Momma’s shoe more than staying in our mouths. “Atta boy, Joe!” we’d yell as our buddy sliced a hit to right field-yelling as loud as we could, but, with such exuberance – We’d lose that gum, somewhere between the bleachers and the concession stand. Watch your step, especially on a hot Saturday morning, a gooey surprise that can only be removed with some ice and a used Popsicle stick….
“Those were the days of no worries, when we only went to show up and swing a bat, or, shag some flies. And we were always up for it – come heck or high water, come bright sultry sun or a downpour of rain. We stood willing and ready. Glove in hand, or, sometimes hanging from the barrel of that wooden bat–draped across our shoulder. Drooping pants, disheveled shirts, hot woolen clothes with the name of some school or market in script across our chests. Sweating even before the game begins, only because a touch of wool acts that way.
“Yep, those were the days, simpler days. A time gone past. I welcome them back, only I can’t run any longer or even swing a mean bat without aggravating my rotator cuff or twist a knee or back muscle…
“They were heavenly, those days, but we didn’t know it. But we do now, and sadly, it is too late.
“Heaven can wait. We’ll find it again. I know we will, with legs that can fly, like wings on our heels, swift and true again. It will come, and I can’t wait; but wait I must.
“And patiently I will…
“Peace in this world can’t be any sweeter than the good ol’ days of baseball.
Thank you brother. I love you too. Peace be with you.
© Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.