Stallard Baseball Card

It seemed like a mighty savvy business decision, especially considering it came from a couple of kids.

If only Little Brother had been willing to cooperate.

Jack had recently lost a tooth. He was around 5 or 6 years old, so losing his baby teeth was expected. He was a cute little sucker with that lone gap hovering in his big grin.

He’d also gotten a visit from the Tooth Fairy, who’d left him a whole dollar. A dollar! Might as well have been a hundred bucks to us kids.

Jack’s tooth ejection coincided with a major event in our young lives.

We needed a new baseball. A real one, and not one of those sawdust-filled cheapies we resorted to buying when we couldn’t afford the good stuff. One time barreling up on one of those balls flattened it so it looked more like a Frisbee flying across our baseball stadium/pasture.

The problem was a real baseball — a genuine Rawlings horsehide version — cost two whole dollars, not including tax. We’d scraped all over our property digging for enough coins, but with no luck.

Then the Tooth Fairy showed us the way.

All we had to do was persuade Jack to let us yank another one of his teeth. Another dollar from the Baseball Fairy would have us swatting pasture dingers in no time.

Jack wasn’t nearly as excited about our plan as he should have been.

He tried reasoning the best a 5- or 6-year-old could reason. He was smart enough to realize his other tooth had worked its way out on its own. Painlessly, he would have added if he’d thought about it.

To remove another would require a lot more outside effort. And yes, pain. I believe his exact words were, “Nuh uh.”

No explanation from his older brothers would convince him it wasn’t gonna hurt. We offered to tie fishing line around the tooth of his choice and connect the line to a baseball. We’d soft-toss him a pitch, and he could bash his way into baseball immortality.

“Nuh uh.”

The ideas running through my head were pure evil, driven solely by my passion for baseball. Thoughts of pliers and a hammer entered my mind. We had a big neighborhood series coming up with the Kirkpatricks and Vanovers. We couldn’t show up with a Frisbee instead of a baseball. One way or another, I had to have that tooth.

See, when it comes to kids and baseball, there is no such thing as rational thought. We spent most of our pocket change on baseball cards — not as a future investment, but as noisemakers in our bicycles. I didn’t care that my Willie Mays card would one day be worth a fortune. I just knew that when I jammed it in the spokes of my bike, he made me sound as if I were riding a Harley.

Baseball was the reason I went to school on spring days when I was actually sick as a dog. In the winter, the tiniest cough left me hopeful for a day at home.

In the spring? Miss class, and we couldn’t play that day. I’d have dragged myself out to the park with leprosy if it meant I could play.

I wasn’t the only one. My neighborhood had plenty of kids just like me. We draped our gloves on our handlebars and went looking for our next World Series. For years, I thought real baseballs were green — we played with those grass-stained things until the stitches unraveled and the balls made helicopter noises on our line drives. Most of our game balls had some combination of electrical tape in the mix.

Showing up with a spanking-new baseball would add significance to the game. The World Series in Yankee Stadium was nothing compared to our neighborhood matchups.

Now I’m a grown man — sort of — and every April, I get the same urge. I don’t actually play any more, but while covering a recent Angelina College baseball game, I picked up a game ball. No grass stains — or other unidentifiable pasture ingredients — and certainly no electrical tape. I tossed the ball back and forth with a player, and I wondered how baseball cards would sound in the rims of my truck.

As April enters our lives, I can feel the itch to swing a bat or feel my glove vibrate from catching a hard throw. I want sunflower seeds or bubble gum.

The greatest part of the game is how it’s withstood the test of time among today’s youngsters. The love for baseball or softball is as rampant as pollen this time of year. Parents driving kids everywhere. Kids driving parents crazy. I left my cleats. I forgot my glove. In what inning do we get snacks?

True love. The kind that never fades away.

Locally, we’ll be hosting the Opening Day for our youth baseball and softball leagues. I’ve covered the event as both a writer and photographer, and there’s just nothing else like it. I’ve got embedded memories of a little girl leaning over to scoop up a ground ball. On the back of her shorts in big letters was the word, “Softball.”

Another little doll marched to the plate wearing a pink batting helmet, pink gloves and a wielding a pink bat. Right as she made contact with the pitch, she blew a big, pink bubble with her gum. Of course she did.

But my favorite memory of Opening Day? Watching a couple of T-ball teams on the first day of the season. I watched a little dude camped way out in right field, and he was paying absolutely no attention to the game in front of him. He was too busy. He was on his knees in the grass trying to catch a grasshopper with his cap. He jumped when the grasshopper jumped.

Finally, he made the catch. He stood triumphantly with bug in one hand and glove on the other.

Naturally, the next hit rolled all the way out to him.

There he stood with the biggest dilemma of his young life. Should he drop his glove and miss the ball? Should he release the bug he’d tried so long to capture?

His solution was brilliant: He stuck the grasshopper in his mouth, reached down and retrieved the ball before flinging it back to the infield. I have the memory of the grasshopper’s legs sticking from the boy’s lips as he concentrated on the throw.

I found myself hoping the grasshopper would knock one of his teeth out.

I hear the Tooth Fairy is giving away plenty of money now for a new baseball.