The Idle American: The Heat of the Game
October 10, 2021
Memories made in the heat of a football or baseball game are the kinds of memories that can last forever, and they get better with age.
My aged Uncle Mort can take a side road into yesteryear quickern’ most people can start an argument over vaccines. Now, he’s on a mission to learn more about Indian Summer. He’s finding much information about the season in numerous countries of the world.
In general, he has concluded that in the US, the subject comes up most often in the Northeast, where they have pronounced seasons that include notable changes in leaf colors, temperatures, and rainfall. “I guess I should be more concerned about getting the name changed in the US,” Mort said. “But somehow, ‘Native American Summer’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
He rolled on about the Cleveland Indians’ name changed to the Cleveland Guardians, and the former Washington Redskins now with a simple, non-combative moniker: The “Washington Football Team.” Oh, well….
Uncle Mort wasn’t surprised that Southern Methodist University’s Mustangs beat the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs for the second straight time.
“I don’t think many fans noticed that the Ponies’ quarterback is named ‘Mordecai,’ clearly a biblical name,” he said.
He opined that if that “Mordecai” was a leader for the Israelites, surely a quarterback with the same name should be able to lead the Methodist football team against TCU….
Ron Stephens, a high school football star at San Angelo Central High School 60 years ago, went on to play on winning football and baseball teams at Sul Ross State University.
He remembers vignettes, snapshots, unusual occurrences–whatever you choose to call them–more than he does plays, scores, and outcomes.
Numerous vignettes helped him in coaching as he remembered that “boys would be boys,” etc., even if some players tip-toed right against the boundaries of propriety, rules, or the law in some instances. One of his borderline experiences occurred during a March non-conference baseball game in Tempe, Arizona, against Arizona State University. The game was underway, but he and his “bullpen buddies” were whiling away the day in the beautiful Arizona sunshine. The bullpen was behind a grove of trees, so they couldn’t see the game, and coaches couldn’t see them….
The baseball team had run the weather gamut, having played a home game in Alpine 48 hours earlier at 42 degrees, and against Texas Western (now University of Texas at El Paso) a day later when the temperature was 52 degrees. It was 102 degrees in Tempe, so why is it not logical that relief pitchers might remove their shirts, getting suntans whether the team won or not?
A few innings into the game, the Sul Ross coach yelled for Stephens to take the mound. As he jogged toward the mound, he was buttoning his shirt, praying that there’d be no, uh, “wardrobe malfunctions.” Moments later, he’d face several soon-to-be major league stars.
“I held my own against Rick Monday and Reggie Jackson that day,” Stephens recalls, “But not so well against Sal Bando.”…
Ron was grateful that after the game, Bando told him that he was “tipping his hand” when throwing a curveball. “He didn’t have to do that,” Stephens said. “Bando did me a great favor, and I made a simple correction to avoid tipping my hand in the future.”
Stephens coached in Texas high schools–largely in the Metroplex–for almost a half-century.
He’s one of the “good guys,” teaching life first and sports second….
A Sul Ross teammate, Mike Compton, taught more than sports, too. Catcher for the Lobos’ baseball team, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies, but most of his career was spent managing in the minor leagues and developing youngsters from the Caribbean and Venezuela for the big leagues.
He was a catcher one night in a minor league park with marginal lighting. His pitching teammate had a smoking fastball. Following a screaming fastball, Compton turned to the umpire, saying, “I didn’t see it either, but it sounded like it was outside.”….
Dr. Newbury, a longtime university president, writes and speaks regularly. He may be contacted at [email protected]. Call: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury Facebook: Don Newbury
Please click HERE to find Don Newbury’s Mostly Mort on Amazon. It contains classic tales that embody the wit and wisdom of his fictional uncle in the Big Thicket of Texas.