Somewhere around the time I was 8 years old, I discovered the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. The Cards won the 1982 World Series then, and they did it wearing the red caps with the coolest baby blue uniforms in the league– a color choice that was all the rage in major league baseball in that era. I planted a red fitted cap on my head just like the big leaguers, and if I was not in school or church, then I was probably wearing that cap until I was around 15. I can remember buying my first cap (size 6 7/8) from the only sporting goods shop in our downtown area, Judge Little, and as my head grew, I bought new caps– 7, then 7 1/8, and finally 7 1/4. I found my last one a couple weeks ago when we were cleaning out my parents’ house, but that’s a story for another day. I listened to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon every night thanks to our local radio station (WCLD-AM) being a Cardinals affiliate, and I learned the intricacies of America’s past time through two middle-aged, slightly intoxicated Midwesterners’ colorful description of the game. Every broadcast was a slice of Southern boy heaven.
When I was finally old enough to go to Delta State baseball camp, I naturally wore my cap every day. Our camp coaches were all former Delta State baseball greats like Joe Hubal from Greenville High or Cooper Farris, the future coach of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Two future Delta State head coaches were always on staff– Coach Bill Marchant, then at Lufkin High in Texas, and Coach Mike Kinnison, then at Jackson Prep. Since I was probably 4’6 in my rubber cleats and didn’t exactly possess the most powerful right arm in the world, second base was my position of choice. (Trust me– it was a heave for my 12 year body to throw the ball 90 feet from the second base bag to another base.) The coaches must have loved seeing this tiny kid playing his heart out on that big field, and I am sure I was a sight to behold. I would dive and scrap trying to keep up, and I never played an inning without a smile on my face and a Cardinals cap on my head. It was the cap that led to the nickname given to me by the coaches– “Tommy Herr.”
I don’t remember the exact play but I do remember fielding a grounder one afternoon at camp and feeding the ball to the shortstop from second base in a backhanded way– kinda like a quarterback’s option pitch in football– for our third out of the inning. That flip was not exactly the fundamental approach we were taught that same morning during infield drills. However, my way was flashy as hell, and made for some hoots from the coaches in the dugouts. The coaches saw the hot dog flip from the little kid in the Cardinals cap and starting howling, “Tommy Herr picking it in the middle!” For the rest of that week, and for the next two years at camp, I was Tommy Herr to that group of coaches. I didn’t mind at all. I actually loved it– I was a second baseman and I was a Cardinals fan. You could not have given me a better compliment.
So this week’s award for the Best Wife in the World goes to my sweetheart, Ashley. She looked at me like I was nuts when I mentioned months ago what I wanted for my birthday in June, and the gift finally arrived today. Her look was crazy enough that I had doubts whether she actually ordered the present or not. But this gift is easily my favorite gift since the year Dad forgot my birthday and handed me a fifth of Jack Daniels at 11 a.m. since the liquor store was the only place of business he saw open near the post office that morning. Ashley also scores points for the timeliest gift ever since her own birthday is this Sunday. She’s delivered on her end. Now the pressure is on me.
In the meantime, I will be wearing my jersey and dreaming of the 80’s and flipping the ball to the Wizard to start the 4-6-3 double play. I can hear Jack calling it as I type.
“Herr to Ozzie to first– in time! That’s a Winner!!”