Sehon Warneke, the Legend of Lake Hardware

When I was growing up in Houston’s industrial suburbs, “town” meant Houston and more specifically, the downtown district. You know – tall buildings. After relocating to Lake Jackson in 1982, I never lost that almost automatic reference to “town” as my way to refer to Houston. And it was easy to tell old friends that we had moved south of town to a place called Lake Jackson, hence this journal goes under the heading of South of Town, Lake Jackson.

Lake Jackson was a bit of a culture shock. After all, I was nearing forty and had never experienced life in a small-town on an extended basis. People were polite. They smiled as they took turns, even at the uncontrolled intersections in its curvy, crazy little downtown.

But the single most shocking thing I saw happened in a little store three short blocks from my house, the Lake Hardware store on Oyster Creek. (It’s no longer there. Fire took it a week ahead of 9/11, but they quickly re-located and re-built.) You need a lot of little things when you move into a new residence. There were all the little things that broke, new things that needed to be installed, and the tools and supplies to handle all the jobs of homeownership. I had quickly learned that Lake Hardware was the place to go.

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Open Mic Night at the School Board: I Play the Gray Card

Inspired by Michael Morris’s September 8 column in The Facts, I called the school district office and got on the list to offer public comment at the start of the September board meeting. I am not an open mic kind of person, but Mr. Morris reminded me of the importance, in a democracy, of speaking up when you have a reasonable opinion about how things should go in your community’s life.

As the day approached I thought about the possibility that the Justice for J-6 crowd may well be preparing to flood the board room with bikers recruited from Sturgis, South Dakota to chain whip anyone daring to appear at the meeting masked against “the Chinese virus“. At a minimum I thought I ought to choose my words carefully and write them down to keep myself on script.

So I wrote about two and a half minutes of my thoughts in which I appealed to my status as an elder in the community. Maybe they would’t beat up an old man wearing glasses, leaning on a cane, and talking about the olden days.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out – For Children and Teachers

Michael Morris of The Facts gave excellent and important advice in his column this morning. I took the challenge and got on the public agenda for the September meeting of my local school board trustees’ meeting. I hope other of his readers will do the same.

As someone who came of age in another century, I can remember when public health was treated as a legitimate and very important medical specialty. Polio, smallpox, chicken pox, measles and many more have been controlled through the advancement of science and medical practice. We learned to trust the advice of the professionals. And maybe even more important, we had teachers in public schools who taught us how to recognize the difference between the advice offered by public health professionals and that of snake oil salesmen.

Just remember that the same people who are telling you that masks and vaccines are the work of the devil are the same ones telling you that ivermectin works and will keep you safe from Covid-19. Not all of the people who listened to them are still with us. May they rest in peace in the arms of their understanding, if not greatly disappointed, God.

Instead, believe the people who went to medical school and completed the really hard science courses and medical practice internships and residencies. They know what they are talking about and they don’t do satanic rituals when you aren’t looking.

Baseball – It’s Better than Hollywood

So let’s write a script for a movie about baseball. Remember, it’s Hollywood, so it can be over the top and unbelievable.

Let’s start with a trade. One team has World Series dreams but is in desperate need of relief pitching. The other team just needs a few good players to pull them up a notch in their division. So they actually work a trade while they are playing each other. One team sends its ace relief pitcher to the other for a 24 year-old second baseman just a year out rookie status. They trade uniforms, clubhouses, lockers and move across the field for the next game in their series. It never happens, but remember. It’s Hollywood.

The reliever is crushed. He was doing so much for his team with one scoreless save after another. You can even write in a scene where he sits in his new team’s dugout crying. The fans of his old team are outraged. The GM gets hate mail. But the deal is done. The pitcher stands before the cameras and makes brave statements about the nature of the game, the business and how great the fans are in both cities.

The kid second baseman seethes in silence. He had played well but his team saw him as expendable. You will see from the look in his eyes that he hopes some day to use his bat to get even.

A few weeks later in the season, the teams square off again. And since it’s Hollywood, you have the new young infielder come to bat in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. The bases are loaded, of course. And on the mound is the reliever who cried in the dugout after the trade. Of course. It’s Hollywood.

So you write him in for a grand slam. Why not? Since it’s Hollywood. But this is where I would expect the production company suits to step in and say it’s just too much. Even for Hollywood.

With only one out, let’s make that a sacrifice fly. Put it way back on the warning track. Create suspense as the ball goes toward the fence. But not out of the park.

Make it a great catch, a brilliant throw and a close play at the plate. Score the run, but a grand slam? Really? That’s too much even for Hollywood. And more karma than even Bollywood would allow.

Real life is more like this:

And that’s what I love about baseball. Even when my team loses.

Enjoying a Good Memory on a Bad News Day

There’s not much fun in reading the news these days. But I did find a bright spot this morning.

The Washington Post had an article today about a home run that Frank Howard hit in the Seattle Pilots home park in 1969. A 10-year-old kid named Jim Flinn was sitting in the cheap seats beyond center field and he watched Howard’s home run go out of the park, at least by his memory. That would have made it at least 600 feet, given the height of the wall encompassing Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium.

If Sick’s Stadium and the Seattle Pilots don’t ring true to your MLB fan ears, it’s because the Pilots only stayed a year in Seattle before moving on to Milwaukee to fill the vacancy left there when the Braves moved to Atlanta. They are best known for being the team Jim Bouton pitched for when he wrote Ball Four.

But here’s the thing. In the world both before and after StatCast, no one has managed to propel a baseball that far with a bat AND be able to produce credible witnesses and measurement. Except for young (now 62) Jim Flinn. He knows what he saw. And it provided him with the memory for a lifetime.

It reminded me of my own similar memory. I saw a home run that, for me, was every bit as memorable as that Frank Howard shot and maybe even a few feet farther in its travel.

In 1957, I was 13 years old and just beginning to be sold on baseball as “the beautiful game,” at least in my culture and in my life. I was an avid fan of the Buffs, the Houston entry in the AA Texas League. That summer my dad took me to a game between the Buffs and the loathsome Dallas Eagles. The Buffs were a St. Louis Cardinal farm team. The Eagles were affiliated with the New York Giants. And any team from New York got hisses and boos in Texas, even before the Mets existed.

It was a matchup against the Texas League’s two best teams. Matching up over the whole season, Dallas led the league by 5 games over the second place Buffs. But minor league ball determined league championships through a system called the Shaughnessy Playoffs. It was pretty much the same design the major leagues use now with the top four teams doing elimination rounds. Houston won the Shaughnessy playoff, and thus the Texas League crown, four games to three over the Eagles. But none of that matters to the memory I have of that season.

My memory is about a ball I saw going over the center field fence in Buff Stadium. Any ball going over that fence was impressive in that it was 440 feet from home plate (the legendary Polo Grounds was only 442). The right and left field fences were 12 feet high. They added another six feet to the 440 foot center field fence. It was rare to see a ball clear that center field fence. It saved money on baseballs, no small thing in the minors.

But that night the Eagles started a 19-year-old first baseman named Willie McCovey. I remember little else about that game but my memory is of seeing a ball he hit leaving the park over the center field wall on a straight line that was still rising when it disappeared into the darkness.

After he hit that home run, I noticed the crowd gasping even when he would swing and miss. His movement was like velvet and oh so powerful. Still a teenager, McCovey hit .281 for the Dallas Eagles that year with 11 home runs. That isn’t huge production for a double A ball player. But I saw one of those eleven home runs and it was unforgettable.

That was the only time I ever saw Willie McCovey play in person. And McCovey never made it to the New York Giants. By the time he made the Giants two years later, they had moved to San Francisco.

Twenty-nine years and 521 home runs later, in 1986 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I saw him hit one of the longest home runs ever hit in organized baseball. No video recorded it. There was no StatCast to give us accurate, scientific measures.

But, like Mr. Jim Flinn, I know what I saw. And I thank him for jogging my memory.