Saturday, August 15, 2009

Baseball and the summer

SAN DIEGO – Baseball has been a constant for me, back home and in the Southwest corner.

I wrote of baseball here 20 months ago. Last week, I purposely avoided the All-Star game and the folderol along with it, but the mid-season extravaganza brought more thoughts about our country’s “past time.”

In 1953“Pony League” baseball was my first organized ball. I was chosen to catch. The selection followed me throughout my playing time.

Little League started the next year. I caught and played outfield on Noke’s Sports. Jimmy Allen’s Lebanon Bank team with Mike Dixon and Jimmy Hatcher were constant winners. Draper and Darwin’s Earl Major hit the first official home run out of the new Little League Park, although Reese Williams would have had the honor had he not missed second base.

In Babe Ruth League, we switched team members and added quite a few. New teammates on Lea’s Butane Gas included Mike Gannaway and Jimmy Gamble. The three of us played together through high school.

I was Gannaway’s catcher. Mike was a pro-quality pitcher and the stopper for every team he was on. His skill won a scholarship to Georgia Tech, and he continued to play for local teams in the summer. It was a treat to catch him.
In our senior season at Castle Heights, Gamble, shortstop; Tommy Vassar (a boarding cadet from Arkansas), second base, and I as third baseman were the “pygmy infield” for obvious reasons.

The pygmy infield, Gannaway, and the other Tigers, coached by Frank North and Jimmy Allen, won the 1962 mythical Mid-South championship (the prep conference did not officially award a championship).

American Legion ball was my baseball highlight and final baseball in Lebanon. In my two years, we were good. But 1961 was something special. Gannaway, of course, was the headline pitcher, but Pat Martin, and Charles Dedman were formidable.

Mike Dixon in right and Bobby Lannom in left were the best hitting outfield duo I ever saw outside of the majors. The recent Blue Devil Hall of Famer Bruce Skeen was the shortstop, Charles Kolbe was the catcher (I was back up) and a gaggle of us bounced around the other positions.

“Peaches” Grandstaff was our first head coach, but he gave way to J.T. Robinson, while Gordon Skeen and Wayne Dedman were constants at coaching.

My favorite player was Alex “Country” Harlan. Country played the game with abandon. His arm was a rifle from center field and saved several runs. The three outfielders had super coverage for that level of ball. Country however was Lebanon’s version of Dizzy Dean. He was a free-spirit and he was fun, on and off the field.

The team won the regional playoffs against Columbia –a separate tale – before losing to Memphis in the state playoffs, the team which won the national Legion title 13 consecutive years.

It was a special time and different from today’s game in many ways. We played in open fields, backyards with “whiffle”balls, any place we could in addition to organized play. Except for the leagues, there was little or no supervision.

We wore wool uniforms with baseball under-jerseys throughout the season, regardless of heat and humidity.

Aluminum bats did not exist. Every one used wood bats. I don’t recall any label other than Louisville Sluggers. Batting helmets, batting gloves, and protective padding weren’t around.

Most fields had dirt infields. Carthage had a cow pasture limiting the left field line to 180 feet. Anyone hitting it over the fence inside the four fence posts from the foul line was awarded a double, not a homer. One right fielder went back for a long drive and tumbled down the hill into the river.

When I started playing baseball again in the Southwest corner a quarter century had elapsed – this too a separate tale. The particulars had changed. Wood bats were rare outside professional baseball (our league stuck to wood). Uniforms were synthetic, light and airy. Schools and videos taught technique. Playing was limited to batting cages, official practices, and the games.

But the game had not changed. The players, a few even as old as 50, loved the game. It was a brief, fond return to the playing side of the sport.

Even now, I think of those playing days at home and in the Southwest Corner. They are always good thoughts.

Note: The players and coaches mentioned in this article is a compilation of three memories, Mike Dixon, Henry Harding, and mine, from 48 years ago. There was not complete agreement. If other players or observers of those boys of summer have better recollection, we would like to set the record straight. Contact Jim Jewell by email at, by phone at (619) 871-3250.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Love Poem

This entry is tough for me to actually put on the website. i have shied away from printing my poems about love. i feel as though they reveal a great deal about me not known by many, and i have considered them very private between someone dear and me.

However, i have arrived at the conclusion, these poems are a significant part of my writing, and if i am truly going to try and live my passion for writing, i must make them available to everyone as i am doing with my other writings.

Even as i go through the mechanics of transferring the poem to this space, i am uncomfortable.

Perhaps that is what it takes to follow one's passion.

To Maureen: The Beginning of an Epic Poem

Indian Ocean phosphorescence;
glowing waves in the night awe me no longer
(younger sailors almost shout in delight
at the discovery of sparkling waves),
i walk back to my stateroom with better things to do:
to dream true visions:

There should have been a diaphanous mist,
ethereal, mystical,
flowing about her
when she walked toward me the first time

Mind, do not play tricks on me.
i desire to remember the moment exactly as it was:
Clear, finite.

Her dress seemed to be a gossamer gown
softly caressing the elegance of her body;
her hair curled softly,
falling gracefully to her shoulders,
framing the delicate, fine features.
Eyes, oh eyes, drawing me in, taking my breath,
suggested more than my mind could comprehend,
grasped my soul and told me
Scherazade's thousand tales,
drew me into the bottomless pit of emotion
before i knew emotion had no end;
allowed me to float suspended in her beauty.
i was afraid to speak,
afraid i might fall from suspension,
break the image before me.
then we got down to business.
What in god's name did i think, i think.
perhaps suspicions of such beauty, certainly awed.
i made a joke.
Did she notice i was nervous?

Oh little boy, walk away as if
you were merely happy with the thought
you will see her at least one more time.

i am deep into the Indian Ocean night.
i have learned to gauge the depth of the night
by the strength of the coffee.
now the coffee is very strong, very black.
the work seems endless.
the sea infinite.

Yet i smile
when i dream of her.

Indian Ocean
October 4, 1983

Monday, August 10, 2009

Simplicity is Accommodating for Many Good Reasons

This blog thing is getting the best of me. My business ventures have picked up. Consequently, my time for editing and posting has become more limited. As a friend of mine, Pete Toennies, has said in the past, "It's not a passion unless you sacrifice all other tasks to pursue what is your passion."

When i started this almost-a-blog, my intent was to pursue my writing at the cost of all other tasks, chase my dream, live my passion. It seems my renewed dedication to writing has been a catalyst for my other too-many pursuits. They have taken off, and i am obligated, for the sake of family and my personal financial security to pursue them, once again obviating my writing to a second tier priority.

The above sounds too goody two shoes to me. i have not been uncomfortable and i continue to do a lot of things i like to do, other limitations on my writing. For instance, i have taken on a lot of home projects, and enjoy physical work, a trait inherited from both of my parents. And in spite of my frustration at the game, i continue to play golf at least once and sometimes three times a week without needed training and practice. So it's not like i am slaving away.

It is a strange thing, this urge to write. i am no longer a seeker of fame or fortune (beyond my perception of needed security). i gave up the fame thing somewhere in my late twenties and shun it now. i often say i would like to be a writer in the vein of J.D. Salinger in terms of marketing my work, but without all the negative publicity -- such is not the reality in today's public relations, communication glut world. Yet i continue to want to write for others to read.

So i will make no false promises here again. i will post when i post (and i may learn to receive comments and respond). i will write what i want when i want and continue to make my "Lebanon Democrat" columns available here.

i hope you read and i hope you enjoy.

Take care,


Notes from the Southwest Corner:
Simplicity is Accommodating for Many Good Reasons

SAN DIEGO – One drawback to the Southwest corner is the climate requires outside water sources to support those who live here.

Out here, the 3 million people in the San Diego area require more water themselves and even more for the non-native plants we brought with us than exists locally.

To explain, when I was back home in May, it rained over ten inches in a week. Ten inches is about the annual rainfall in the Southwest corner. Even though plentiful rain (six inches) came this winter, we are facing drought conditions …again.

Conservation is being institutionalized again. The City of San Diego has even/odd lawn watering enforced. Bonita, our home, has thus far escaped mandatory limitations

But I am married to a water-saving zealot. Maureen spent over two wonderful years in Monterrey, CA before she met me – hmm, maybe that’s why they were wonderful.

While she was there, the Monterrey area suffered a historic drought. Maureen learned to cope. So when draught hit here around 1992, Maureen was ready.

If neighbors were watering lawns during in a rain shower, Maureen would stop her commute, ring the door bell and chastise the neighbor for being imprudent in water conservation. She had a mission.

She is on her mission again.

Help with the Dishes

In my effort to please her, I decided to help. My father and I have discussed the impracticality of cleaning dishes before placing them in the dishwasher. Recognizing the water-saving advantage and the opportunity to please my wife, I commenced washing our dishes by hand. It was a simple plan.

My plan has worked pretty well. Maureen is pleased I have come over from the dark side in water conservation. We are saving water, and I have confirmed hand washing the dishes does make sense. Of course, you have to have the time to do it.

At this time of my life, I don’t have the time. Potential business seems to be knocking on my door more frequently. Wife and daughter, the latter of which having moved back in for at least the summer, have numerous tasks only a husband or dad can tackle…or at least this is what I choose to believe. And to be honest, one to three rounds of golf a week does take out a chunk of my discretionary time.

Despite the time crunch, I have continued with the hand dishwashing. It has led me to a discovery: I get satisfaction from “doing the dishes.”

Cleaning up after a meal provides a sense of accomplishment. It is finite, and when the tasks are done, they are done.

Sibling Dishwashers

While scouring a pot or drying a glass, I recall the thousands of times my sister, brother, and I did the dishes looking out the window over the kitchen sink on Castle Heights Avenue. We didn’t seem to get much satisfaction then. It was more like a pitched battle to get it done fast and leave before one sibling berated another for not drying a dish well or leaving a food smudge on a pot. “Doing the dishes” was an obstacle.

Of course back then, there was no alternative. We could not pass them under the water spray (faucets were pretty much one-dimensional in the forties and fifties) and stack them on racks in the dishwasher. We were the dishwasher in our abode.

I have even taken to stowing the drying rack, just like we did back home. When I have completed my chore, I stop and admire a clean kitchen with no evidence of “doing the dishes” in view.

I have discovered simplicity. In my world in this age at my age, simplicity doesn’t come calling very often. Our world seems much more complex than when we grew up on the cusp of the technological explosion which gave us computers, push-button car windows, automatic transmissions, and of course, computers. We have more paperwork, more check-lists, more regulations, more rules for finance, health, even athletics.

Even our entertainment requires some basic technical expertise to turn on the television, cable, satellite, TIVO, DVD, sound system, etc.
But adamantly, I continue to “do the dishes” and feel pretty smug about it. It feels good.

In fact, I am seriously thinking about washing my truck myself next week.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Letters from home, a reversal

Business, or rather the prospect of business, has kept me from my appointed rounds here for quite a while. i will make no promises but i will try to make daily entries until i catch up (my standards of "catch up" apply here). The below is the third in a series about "letters from home" i wrote for The Lebanon Democratin June and July.

While I miss my Navy deployments and those letters from home, I also realize neither the deployments nor the letters would be as good as they were in the 1960s through the 1980s.

I am older can't do what I did back then. Now, those 16 hour days on end would do me in. Liberty ports would be tamer and more toward museums, historic sites, and fine dining. Letters from home would have a different meaning due to my changing perspective with age.

This past week, we celebrated our 233rd Independence Day in the United States: heady stuff. In spite of our problems, this amazing model for a nation with the idealistic but unwavering goal of governance by the people for the people just keeps on keeping on.

But in the midst of the celebration, the news focus on finances, Iran, Afghanistan, and celebrities dying, significant events occurred in relative obscurity in Lebanon last week.

Leftwich, Jewell & Baird Connections

Sunday, at the First United Methodist Church on West Main, a family, a church, and a community celebrated the 70th anniversary of J.B. and Jo Doris Leftwich (the actual anniversary will occur July 12 during their annual family trip to Fall Creek Falls).

Last Thursday, Jimmy and Estelle Jewell quietly celebrated their 71st anniversary with their daughter, Martha Duff, and dinner - it still delights me to call the noon meal "dinner" and the evening meal "supper" - at Michael's.

During the week, Charlie Baird continued recovering from recent ailments at the Lebanon Health and Rehabilitation Center.

These are all significant events to me. This column is a letter from home (in the Southwest comer) in reverse.

Coach Leftwich: an icon

J.B. Leftwich, a Friday columnist in this newspaper, is an icon for print journalism in Middle Tennessee and positively impacted newspaper journalism across the country. His students at Castle Heights have edited some of the finest big city newspapers. Many have provided guidance and support for the follow-on generation in pursuing solid reporting and editorial practices.

He and Jo Doris are the nucleus of a wonderful family spread across the South:
Children Linda Newton, Jim, Barbara Froula, and Jack have produced children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who have maintained the tight-knit kinship, an allegiance to hard and successful work, and superb Southern ethical lifestyles.

In addition to all of that, "Coach" and Jo Doris are two of my best friends.
They are also best friends of my parents. They have been associated with each other since before I was born. So it is not surprising the total number of anniversaries for the two couples is moving toward 150.

Senior Jewell's 71st & Charlie Baird

As for the duo who celebrated their 71st, I have written of them often and will not spend significant space here. They know how I and the rest of our family feel about them. They remain my greatest example of how to grow. I'm still learning.

Then there is Charlie Baird. Charlie Baird is the poster child for success in Wilson County. He was born in Major in what is now Cedar Forest. He came to Lebanon proper for his last years of high school. He rose to the top management of the Lebanon Woolen Mills. He has been a pillar of the Methodist Church. He was a stellar golfer, shooting his age or better into his 90s.

He and his beautiful wife, Erma, had two great children, Sharry and Charles. Sharry and Bill Hagar still live in Lebanon. Sharry remains one of my best friends from childhood on. She carries on that spirit I define as Lebanon.

Several years ago, Charlie took my wife and me golfing at the Lebanon Country Club.
He greatly impressed her as he has always done for those who make his acquaintance. I still love to discuss any subject with him, but it seems we both wander back to talking about golf.

There are many others of that generation who I would have also liked to have seen this past week. I am not at sea but my ship remains far from Lebanon. My letters from home are now phone calls and email.

This is my letter TO home for those special people: J.B. and Jo Doris Leftwich, Charlie Baird, my parents, and others with whom I would have liked to have celebrated 233 years of U.S. Independence.