Life(times) at the city park

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Life at The City Park

Debbie and I were married in October 1987. With Debbie’s two sons, my two sons and daughter, our families immediately got larger. That following summer, and for the next several summers, we spent our summer months shuttling our kids to and from the J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park.

Now, it seems that history is repeating itself.

At that time, I was the director of cardiopulmonary services at the hospital. I usually didn’t get home from work until about 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening.

In the summer things changed. I needed to leave for work earlier so I could be home no later than 5 p.m. That allowed us time to be at one of the many ball diamonds before the opening pitch of the evening ballgames.

Every evening, as soon as I pulled into our driveway, Debbie was ready to load our lawn chairs into the trunk.

Toss, arrange, slam. The lawn chairs were ready to go. We also grabbed a cooler with energy drinks, water and snacks.

I usually grabbed the latest edition of the Wilmington News Journal so I could keep up with local events whenever there was a lull in the action. I soon realized there would never be a lull in the action. So, I always carried the newspaper back and forth to the park.

There was usually a short break between games that allowed us to scarf down a sandwich. Back at that time, McDonald’s was where the westernmost entrance to Kroger now sits. It was easy to send the boys to the golden arches for a few cheeseburgers. That became part of the Riley summer routine – baseball, lawn chairs and cheeseburgers.

Of course, there were evenings when two boys played at the same time. Debbie and I tried splitting the duty, but then one of us would always miss something exciting. So, we tried to position our lawn chairs so we could see two parks at once. That rarely worked, but the boys liked that we made the effort.

Over a period of weeks, we met many other busy, youth-baseball families. Since our kids were busy learning the fine arts of baseball, we all had something in common – youth baseball. Summer was great fun.

We enjoyed several years of youth baseball, then Josh, Danny and Thad got too old for the youth leagues. They only had one option left … umpire.

Our three oldest boys contacted the city and were hired for the summer. They were still at the park, but now they could pay for their own cheeseburgers. Life was good.

Of course, that gave Debbie and me a new excuse for hanging out at the city park. We would watch our boys umpire ball games. That was fun. I was always concerned about how they would react to fans who got out of hand. I should not have worried.

Danny was working as the second umpire of a baseball game. Normally, he positioned himself near first base to make the call at first. If a runner was already on first, Danny would take a position between the pitcher’s mound and second base. That way he had a good view of first and second base.

He was also in a good position to hear anything the pitcher was saying. Early in the game, the pitcher started grumbling about almost every call the home-plate umpire made.

By the middle of the game, the grumbling grew into muttered curses. Danny warned the pitcher about his language. Later, Danny reminded the pitcher that cursing was not allowed on the field.

The pitcher responded with words that included the f-bomb.

Needless to say, the pitcher was ejected from the game. Unfortunately, the coach was the pitcher’s father. The coach used a few expletives to let Danny know how he felt about his son’s removal. It became readily apparent where the pitcher learned his foul language.

Danny promptly kicked the coach out of the game. That infuriated the pitcher’s mother, who was also the coach’s wife. She started spouting expletives from the bleachers. It became obvious that the other fans were offended by her behavior, so she was also kicked off the field.

To this day, Danny may hold the record for ejecting an entire family from the city park.

Now, we have six grandchildren who play ball at either the high school field or the city park. Guess who got yelled at by the umpire last week.

You guessed it. It was me – Pappy.

I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never question balls and strikes again.

At least not out loud.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist