The 7th game of the World Series plays magic in the minds of baseball lovers. My mind goes back several decades. My brother, Nolen Robert, six years my senior, taught me to play ball at a very early age on our Tennessee farm. This was in the late 1940s before I knew much of happenings outside our family.
At first we played with lightweight rubber balls, about the size of tennis balls but hollow, throwing them back and forth, bouncing them off the walls, and hitting them with a stick or a small bat. Mother got furious with us for throwing a ball inside the house. She didn’t like the broken lamps, glasses, and picture frames. But when she went out to do chores, we threw balls and frolicked in the house. Daddy didn’t care much either way, as long as we didn’t hit him with the ball. He had little interest in playing ball with us. It could interfere with getting farm work done. Words like “recreation” and “vacation” were not in our family’s vocabulary.
When I was about age five or so, Nolen Robert introduced a baseball, replacing many rubber balls we had thrown tirelessly. This was at about the same age that I became familiar with major league baseball. Nolen Robert was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. I soon learned that he (and the Dodgers) hated the New York Yankees, because in those years (the early 1950s) the Dodgers and Yankees squared off at the end of most seasons in the World Series. The Yankees usually won, and in a natural urge to oppose my brother, I became a loyal Yankee fan. For me, the young slugger Mickey Mantle made this an easy decision.
From my very early years in elementary school, I always owned a ball, bat, and glove, unlike most of my friends. Possessing these prerequisites to the game, somehow I almost always emerged as one of the two captains who got to choose up teams in the very small and ill-shaped playground. Being in charge this way gave me a lot of power over my friends, and I always named myself the pitcher and assigned the other players to positions in the field. I also determined the batting order, and I don’t recall many, if any, teammates arguing with me about these things.
After three to four years of being the pitcher, I began to dream of pitching for the New York Yankees, and winning the seventh and deciding game of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. During warm weather in my pre-teen years, whenever I was at home alone, with Nolen Robert elsewhere on the farm working with Daddy, I began throwing a baseball against our chimney. This chimney vented our non-functional living room fireplace, on the east side of the house.
The chimney was constructed of limestone and bricks. The lower part was made from limestone rocks that reached from the ground up about two feet, and extending about five or so inches farther out than the bricks on three sides. A single row of bricks was laid on this limestone ledge. Above that row of bricks was the normal type of chimney construction made of bricks extending up above the peak of the roof. The lower bricks were about six feet wide, narrowing to about three feet halfway up the side of the house.
This chimney at first substituted for Nolen Robert playing catch with me. I would step out from the chimney to the edge of the lawn, just beside our Burley tobacco field. When I would throw the baseball against the chimney, it would bounce back to me in the form of a ground ball, giving me fielding practice at the same time. When I threw the ball a bit lower, it would hit the single row of bricks along the top of the limestone rocks on the chimney. Depending on the part of the ball striking the sharp edge of the bricks, the ball would come back to me as a pop-up, or a weak line drive, or a grounder. Practice in this manner forced me to use a rubber-covered practice baseball instead of the official leather one. The sharp edge on the row of bricks would quickly destroy the leather cover on a baseball.
Soon I noticed that two bricks in the lower center of the chimney were about the same width as home plate on a baseball field, and at a height at about the center of the strike zone of boys my age. These two bricks became my imaginary home plate!
This realization resulted in a faster-paced evolution of my sophistication as a young pitcher. From the worn-out grassy spot that I imagined as a pitching mound on a real baseball field, I began to face imaginary batters. Sometimes I would imagine a runner on first base, or a runner on third base, or the bases loaded. These imaginary situations affected my wind-up and delivery to my imaginary home plate. I would practice pitching to one end of a brick, then another, to sharpen my control. Trying to develop near pin-point throwing accuracy from different types of wind-ups, depending on where I had placed imaginary base runners, helped me greatly when my junior high baseball coach, Mr. James Young, chose me to be the starting pitcher on our team.
For two to three years, weather permitting, when I could find the time I would be out in the side yard pitching to the two bricks. I would do this until my arm was exhausted, or until one of my parents or Nolen Robert called me to come do something else.
I pictured myself in Yankee Stadium, the starting pitcher in the seventh game of the World Series, striking out the final batter with the bases loaded to win the World Championship. I could hear the roar of the crowd. My teammates hoisted me to their shoulders as the crowd roared an even louder approval.
This childhood dream is still vivid in my memory, over half a century later. This dream crystallized while I stared in at those two bricks, clearly seeing home plate.
So, there you have it. This is how two bricks became a plate and how they transported me to the World Series. For real.