Sports and identity, Part II

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

On the inside cover of my father’s scrapbook is a photo of him sitting on the grass at Yonkers, New York’s Trever Park in 1940. Beside him in the grass is a softball bat, a softball and his ball glove.

Both hands are raised with fingers imaging circles indicating that he had pitched a no-hit, no-run softball game for the Third-Ward Democrats (he was always a New Deal Democrat). He looked a bit like Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and he often wore a pin with the inscription “Vote for Me” and occasionally he was taken for the president).

Since he was a repairman for the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, his responsibilities took him to businesses in the public and he always dressed with a suit, a vest and a tie. He is smiling as he always did; he was almost “jolly.”

Page after page of the scrapbook contains descriptions of the Democrats’ encounters with rival teams at the Glenwood League. I enjoyed accompanying dad, but as I remember I always found my way to the gigantic sand pit where I spent most of my time. From the park and beyond was the sand pit where the very busy train tracks that follow the river for many miles brought workers to New York City.

Aside from attending baseball games in New York City was my father listening to what I remember as the Cincinnati Reds games from Crosley Field via WLW radio. I was certain the announcer was Waite Hoyt, but my research tells me that he came to Cincinnati in 1942 and that Red Barber announced the Reds games till 1938 – that doesn’t seem correct to me as I would have only been five years old. (We moved from Yonkers to Indianapolis in early 1941.)

I guess that is possible, but another thing that seems impossible is that the play-by-play came by way of teletype. Can you imagine “(dot, dot, dot — and the pitcher winds up, delivers a ball low and outside (dot, dot, dot) the second pitch is a strike right down the middle of the plate (dot, dot, dot) the next pitch is drilled down the third base line going to the fence and the batter is on second base (dot, dot, dot, ad infinitum).”

Well, at one time that was exciting and simply unbelievable — immediate play-by-play — much better than waiting for the next day’s newspaper.

Regardless who it was, by the third inning or so dad was sound asleep accompanied by his not-too-melodious snoring. This took place on the back porch of the fourth floor of an apartment on Warburton Avenue, overlooking the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades. (Palisades are cliffs that line the New Jersey side of the Hudson River across from New York). In no way was this an upscale apartment, but it was fine.

As mentioned, dad was a repairman for the NCR,. His task was to visit, twice a year, establishments that used cash registers. I can remember him telling of a store manager who had to watch every move he made as he checked the register. His frustration led him to line up the perfect opportunity so that the man’s face was directly across from him and with his oil-gun he could get him in the face – which he did!

The big story, however — comparable to two no-hit, no-run games — is who he encountered in a bar as he was inspecting a register. He met The Babe!

Yes, Babe Ruth, who apparently frequented bars even in Yonkers, which is immediately out of the city and up the Hudson River. He may have even told this story more often than the no-hitters!

I continued to be the smallest kid in my class into high school, and it did slow me down. Since I was very small, I hesitated, to my father’s disgust, to try out for the high school baseball team until I was a senior. I finally did and served as one of the starting pitchers.

I don’t really remember my record, but I think it was respectable.

I followed a similar pattern as a college student – went out during my senior year and had a very mediocre year. I do remember that I pitched against two NCAA Division I teams and won one and lost one. I was the winner against Ball State University and loser against the University of Louisville (game played at the Louisville Colonels Stadium).

A friend of mine located the newspaper article from the Anderson Daily Bulletin News, and since the report was good, I’ll quote it: “Neil Snarr was the winning pitcher, who relieved Bill Smith in the third inning with the bases clogged. Snarr allowed the Cardinal only one run the rest of the game.”

My final experience with baseball was in Mexico City in Mexico. In order to complete my college requirements, I needed four more courses and took them at Mexico City College during a summer session.

I became acquainted with a Mexican family whose son was part of a neighborhood team and I was invited to participate. Again, I became their pitcher and I think they were pleased with my work. It was a great deal of fun.

No one spoke English and I did not speak Spanish, but the family’s daughter I mentioned above was fluent and served as interpreter. The team I played with was part of a league sanctioned by some civic organization and we played at different neighborhoods in the city.

The playing fields were simply vacant lots, and because of the absence of public facilities (restrooms) and the poverty, these vacant lots served as outdoors facilities. Subsequently, one needed to be very careful running from base to base, and sliding into a base was unthinkable.

This summer of 1958 (or 1959) was the end of my on-again, off-again career as a baseball player (mostly pitcher). Since the only chance I had to practice pitching in Mexico City was once a week when we had a game, my arm was abused and finally gave out at one of these games and that terminated my playing.

This time in Mexico City proved to be an impetus for future trips to this gigantic city built on the ruins of the Aztec Empire. I have been to the city over two-dozen times since then, primarily taking students or locals to what I considered “A Cultural Exposure.” It seemed to always be enjoyed and replicated by several.

I find it difficult to explain the importance sports have been to me and my father, but it did not stop there. My two sons competed in various sports and it seems clear to me that who they are is greatly influenced by this participation.

Beyond this, I was able on occasions to coach them. Being in a small and open town has provided me with many opportunities, for which I am very thankful!

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist