Week 23: June 7, 2014
Greene County Georgia Baseball with
As written to me by a Greene County, Georgia native on my uncle, Leroy McKinley
We had an area of about two acres in our cow pasture that was flat, no weeds. On Sunday afternoons our cousins, and Leroy (McKinley) would come down to play baseball. My cousins rode an old mule, Leroy walked, though sometime along the way I think he had a bicycle. Our bats were either sticks picked up out of the woods or small trees cut down and shaped. Our baseball was one we made ourselves. I don’t remember my cousins or Leroy ever bringing one. We used a little rubber ball, shanghaied from some girl’s jacks set, wrapped tightly with string unraveled from some of daddy’s worn out work socks. When the ball was about the size of a regular baseball mama would use a crooked needle and regular sewing thread to sew the top layers together so that it would not come apart. Then to keep the thing from wearing out too fast we would wrap it in black tape. I can’t remember its name though later we called it electricians’ tape.
Our bases were rocks or sticks laid out without worrying about measured distances, but sometimes with much arguing. Arguments also established the rules. Usually one person batted and if he got on base (under our ever changing rules) someone would come in from the field to bat until the person on base was either put out or made a run; in which case he would go into the field so someone could come in again from the field to bat. (Usually there would be only about six or seven people playing.)
At about the eighth grade Leroy entered the big times. Just think, here in a little junior high school with less than 100 students in the third poorest county in the country, they founded one of the best baseball teams in middle Georgia. Leroy and one or two other regular students were good enough to make such a team. But, in addition, a group of men (probably in their 20’s), all workers in the hosiery mill in Union Point enrolled in school in late winter and stayed until the last baseball game ended, about the end of the school year. Then, those “men” disappeared about the following March. I now suspect that the “sock plant” paid them. I say that because we know there were other semi-pro teams playing out of that plant, who played our school’s team.
These “men” not only played good ball but they created trouble within the school. Once when the action of the principal, George Brown, displeased a bunch of them they raided his office, got the hand held bell (we didn’t have electric buzzers way back then), tied it to his coat tail and made him run up and down the hall with that bell just clanging.The only one of those men whose name I now remember was Kay Willie Dye, a good ball player and a good man – not participating in the pranks.
Another “just think” was how Leroy and a few other boys, at best 14 years old, were making it with “men” maybe twice their ages. Leroy by now had a good glove (few of us did). He was left-handed both in handling the ball and batting. I think he played first base.
I don’t know who legitimized the team—who told or allowed who to play, or who to play where. I think we had 4 or 5 games at Siloam each spring. I remember, I think, that a team came from Union Point and another from Crawfordville. They must have been played on Fridays or otherwise I would not have been there, and must have been played early enough for the game to be over by about the time school would have been over or I would not have been there. There were no bleachers, but crowds did come. I remember seeing my first British sports car, a little MG, at one of the games. I remember that at least one game there had food, something like a picnic. (Isn’t it ironic that I can remember the name of the principal, etc. but can’t remember so many of the other details?)
The ball diamond was probably not on school property but on land owned by Mr. Mutt Rhodes adjacent to and just south of the school property. The infield was flat, oriented from almost west to east. But from around third base to about half way between second and first, the land fell away, and at about center field it was considerably lower than second base.
As I said, Leroy batted left-handed and he was good. If he got a ball away and low, it was gone, and I mean often really gone – for it would be a home run that landed in the swampy area back of second base. They somehow had another ball, and continued playing while some of the kids would search for the lost ball. Who kept score, I don’t know. Whether that Siloam team traveled to games at other places I don’t remember either.
I lost track of Leroy after graduating from Siloam Junior High. I don’t think he ever attended high School in Greensboro, at least not in the same classes with me. He was not on the graduation list for the year I graduated. The next thing I heard, either in letters to me overseas, or when I came home from service, was that Leroy had been a casualty of the war. I was surprised for although he was athletic he had periodic bouts with what was then called “asthma’, so I would have thought he would not have been taken into the service.(Leroy McKinley was my uncle. Story written to me from Carroll Underwood. By his recollections I’m able to now visualize Leroy as more than just a name.)