Yes, I’ve been away from blogging for a while. I could list all the interviews I’ve done in support of my book How Far? (and that does take up a lot of time and mental energy) or I could fabricate totally made-up stories about how far I’ve traveled recently, or maybe even abducted by aliens, but the bottom line is the fact I haven’t really had much to talk (write) about. But here I am.
It all began to germinate when I was in our utility room. I’m in there every day. With my allergies, I change the furnace filters regularly (I buy them by the dozen on Amazon.) During the deepest part of Minnesota winter, I am also fidgeting with the built-in humidifier, trying to find that narrow balance between waking up with your mouth so dry you can hardly speak while also not frosting all the windows up, which can lead to having them ice up on the inside. It’s a delicate balance. I also keep my bathroom scale in there, to keep tabs on my weight. I’m trying to stay between 210 and 220, but one big dinner can throw that out of whack. Under 210, people start to ask me if I’m OK. I’m fine, but over 220 I start to feel enormous and my pants are too tight. As of this morning, I was at 212. That’s not bad. Way to go, me.
The thing that got me going on this blog was the common sight of three old duffel bags in the utility room. They’re on a high shelf (a step ladder is required) and they’ve been there since we bought this house. They’ve also been with me since well before we were married 25 years ago. As a matter of true fact, they’ve been with me since my 20s and 30s. They sit up there on that shelf reminding me of their existence, but it’s been forever since I climbed the ladder and took them down. They are my Detroit Tigers bag, my Paintsville Hilanders bag, and my Toronto Blue Jays bag, all still filled with whatever was in there when I put them away. Yesterday, I took them down and had a look. They were like time capsules.
Baseball spikes with dirt still attached since the last time I played. Old uniforms. Old socks! A few gloves, and a few odd things I don’t even recall owning, like weird t-shirts I must’ve worn under my jersey. My green Oakland A’s stirrup socks, but not the yellow sanitary socks we elegantly wore under those stirrups. My hand-me-down Oakland A’s pants, worn by a series of other minor leaguers before I was granted custody in Medford, Oregon, but not the jersey. It was a trip back in time. I wish I still had the jersey.
And it got me thinking about all the shirts, jerseys, shoes, and jackets I’ve worn all my life. So here I am.
My wife Barbara has long told me that I need to wear fewer items of clothing that have sports logos on them. I get that, but my closets have been full of sports logos for most of my life. My favorite jacket is a nice thermal Minnesota Twins zip-up that is totally warm enough for anything here until it gets into the single digits. I still have a closet full of old jerseys from baseball, to soccer, and then into the 22 years I spent in racing. Logos and I have had a long and compatible relationship.
It was time to dig through those duffel bags and a closet or two just to see what I still have, and to marvel at how small all those garments are now. Seriously. How did I fit in these things? And that includes the baseball spikes… I always wore size 9 1/2 spikes. Now, I wear 11 1/2 shoes. How can that be?
Jerseys have been part of my life since early childhood. Baseball jerseys in particular. In high school our jerseys were a strange middle-ground between the old wool versions and the new double-knit types that took over the sport when the Pittsburgh Pirates donned such a thing in 1970. We had the letters SLUH stitched onto the front. In college, as a freshman we still wore the old wool types, but by sophomore year we had modern polyester unis with “Cougars” on the front. In pro ball, I wore everything from the Old English D logo with the Tigers to a jersey that said “Hilanders” for home game and “Paintsville” for road games, and then the bright green & gold A’s uniforms with the unique green stirrups and yellow sanis, as we called the cotton socks that went below the stirrups.
There were others… I spent one summer (after my junior year in college) splitting my time between the Cheney Studs team out in Seattle and the Danville Roosters in eastern Illinois. Proof you could go from being a Stud to a Rooster in a matter of days.
And, of course, the Sauget Wizards. We went through many versions of our white with blue piping uniforms through the years, but they were all based on the look the Toronto Blue Jays had initiated. That was a perfect fit for me. I had worked for the Blue Jays as a scout for most of five years before I joined the Wizards. I felt right at home.
And shoes… Growing up, there weren’t many options once you were allowed to wear metal spikes in high school. I always wore the old-school Rawlings spikes, black of course, with the heavy leather sole. They were not exactly sleek, but we didn’t know any better. By my junior year at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, we voted as a group to wear adidas in “Cougar Red” color, but that wasn’t easy either. Our red was a darker style, sort of like Cardinal Red, but adidas didn’t make those. So we all got black shoes and dyed them ourselves. They were awesome looking and very comfortable. And yes, it is correct to type the word adidas without a capital A. That’s the official name of the company, although copy editors around the world throw fits when it’s not capitalized.
For our senior year, we switched to Puma and had to dye those ourselves again. They were fine shoes once you broke them in, but during that process the entire team was playing with bandages on our heels after the bloody blisters emerged.
In pro ball I wore my adidas again in Paintsville, dyed back to black again, but when I signed an endorsement deal with Rawlings for gloves, they had just brought out a new style of spikes and they were great.
When I went to work for Converse Shoes, I immediately switched my footwear once again. I was even allowed to sign a promotional deal with our Sauget Wizards team so that all of us wore matching blue Converse “Energy Wave” spikes.
I had forgotten that I had switched to Reebok for my last year of semipro ball in 1995, playing in Kansas City. Converse was nearly out of business by then and I needed new spikes. At a KC sporting goods store, the Reeboks were the most comfortable. Fine spikes.
I used my Toronto duffel bag throughout my semipro career, and was pleased to find the Reeboks and many pairs of blue Converse in that bag. There is still dirt stuck to the spikes.
And what about NHRA? My gosh, I couldn’t possibly recount every single jersey we wore. We started out with heavy cotton embroidered shirts for the starting line and then, after a few years, joined the conversion to polyester printed shirts. The process is technically called “sublimation” but nobody other than insiders would know what you were talking about if you said “We have these new sublimated shirts now” so we just referred to them as printed shirt. They were much lighter, and as the process matured they became “any concept you could dream up” in terms of the design. I still have one of each style in a spare closet.
There were a few years during the CSK Worsham Racing years when our sponsor maximized the involvement of various vendors by having us do special-edition cars and crew shirts, so we were swapping them out like mad.
So the duffel bags came down. The contents were all still as I had left them so many decades ago. The dirt in the spikes seemed to speak to me. “Remember that last home run you hit? This is the dirt from your trip around the bases!”
It’s crazy. It’s nostalgic. It’s my history. I’m proud of it and proud to have done it. I always will be.
Photographic evidence is posted below.
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I’ll be back as soon as my brain comes up with another topic to explore.