By Joe Rector
Amy and I attended a ballgame at Smoky Stadium this past weekend, thanks to Janet Anderson inviting us. It’d been a couple of years since we traveled to see the team play, and I was surprised to see some of the changes to the field and the amenities. It’s not much like the old Bill Meyer Stadium in east Knoxville that kids visited in the 1960s.
The first such game I attended at the old stadium was with the boys on our community baseball team. No, we didn’t have uniforms, and no one marched us on the field to stand beside the player who fielded the same positions as we die. We walked through the gate and were on our own. For a while, boys from teams around the area sat with wide eyes to watch the players take infield. They’d pull for their guys when they came to bat and cheer when one made a spectacular team in the field.
However, at that age, nothing can capture the attention of boys for too long a period. We began to scout out the stadium. Our first order of business was to gander at all the food that was sold. The scents of cooking hotdogs and hamburgers, as well as that of buttered popcorn, set off loud growls in our stomachs, but none of us had enough money to buy food. Our parents allowed us to go to the game to watch it, not to eat supper. Plenty of food would be waiting for us upon our return to home.
Playing baseball is always more fun to do than to watch. If you don’t believe me, take a look at kids on outer edges of the field. More than likely, one game is going on.
Kids make balls with wadded up cups and wrappers. If no bat is available, batters will hit the ball with bare hands and race down the imaginary line as if he’d hit an important single. After three outs or five runs were scored, the sides changed field positions. The game was more important than what was occurring on the real field.
After guys had had enough playing, they parked their sweaty bodies in the stands…but only long enough to cool off and perhaps get a drink of water. Then it was off to the next adventure. That usually meant camping out someplace close to where a foul ball or home run might leave the confines of the fenced areas. Dozens of boys took off in search of the best souvenirs they could ever have.
I found a ball one time at a game. I held it high and celebrated my success, but it was short lived, Some creep came up to me and demanded the ball. I reluctantly handed it to him, and he turned on his heels and walked with a stride that might have made someone think he was important. Instead, he marched up to the dugout with the ball I’d found and returned it to the team. JERK!
The biggest prize I’d ever laid my hands on was taken from me by a man who wanted to impress the team. I’ll bet that ball was used for batting practice and that some other kid found it, or it was tossed on the trash heap when it became too soft to hit any more. I arrived home as disappointed as a kid who hooks a monster fish and just as he’s about to net it, the line breaks and the prize escapes.
I really enjoyed sitting in the outfield and eating a meal and sipping a beer the other evening. I’d forgotten just how relaxing the game of baseball is to those of us who are well passed our prime.
I hope and pray that the new baseball field will be finished soon. I want to buy season tickets (2) so that I can go most any time I feel like it. Let’s just hope I can afford the tickets. If so, what I’ve wanted for so long will have occurred: the return of baseball to Knoxville.