In the spring of 1953, my pal Tom Raymond and I decided to try out for Pony League. Tom wanted to be a third baseman, and I wanted to pitch. We made it through the wet and cold tryouts, at Greenfield Park [aka Lindberg Park], and we were both assigned to the Kiwanis Club team, which was coached by Mr. Clark.

Tom was a slick fielder and an average hitter whereas I was a mediocre pitcher but a good hitter. Practice for the pitchers was different from what I had expected because an assistant coach lined up the pitchers facing real batters, with fielders acting as catchers. The batters stood in place and did not swing.

While we threw, another assistant coach came up to us individually and showed us photos of big league pitchers winding up to pitch.

Every photo he showed us was of a right-handed pitcher like Bob Feller and Robin Roberts.

Because I pitched left handed, I asked him to show me photos of pitchers like Warren Spahn and Whitey Ford.

He told me it made no difference if the pitcher was a righty or a lefty because the idea was to see the windup used.

I told him there is a world of difference between the windup used by a right-handed pitcher and the windup used by a left-handed pitcher. He became angry and pointed out that he had played minor league baseball, and I didn’t know anything about pitching.

I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t pursue the discussion.

Tom played in every game during the season and so did I. I never appeared as a pitcher, but I was used as a pinch-hitter. I was able to bat either left-handed or right-handed, so this gave me value for batting against either a lefty or a righty.

The assistant coach who gave me the baloney about windups, told Mr. Clark that I did not have the skills to pitch. Clark took his word for it and never watched me pitch on the sidelines, which  I did just to loosen my arm.

Mr. Clark was an offensive-minded coach, and he watched everyone during batting practice. He told me that since I did not have the skills to pitch, he would use me as a pinch-hitter. I was happy that I made the team and figured I would get to bat in a few games. I never realized I would bat in every game.

My greatest thrill came when Mr. Clark told me to bat for our pitcher in the last game of the season. It was our last at bats and we were behind 3-1 with two outs and the bases loaded.

I worked the opposing pitcher for a 3-1 count, fouled off a couple of pitches and then drove a triple to the fence in right center clearing the bases and giving us the victory.

I ended the season on a high note, but I still questioned what the assistant coach said about windups.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and a retired English professor  (Elmhurst College). Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn’t gotten far in 77 years.

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