Some of my fondest, earliest sports memories growing up was watching the displaced Brooklyn Dodgers become the Los Amgeles Dodgers and play on our black and white television at the LA Coliseum and later at Dodger Stadium.
I wanted so badly to be a slugger, like Duke Snyder, or even better, a “southpaw” pitcher like the great Sandy Koufax. I had absolutely NO TALENT for any sports whatsoever, no matter how I tried. It was heartbreaking but true and I idolized kids that did. I even idolized my younger brother Billy, (younger by only 13 months) who seemed to have plenty of talent for whatever game he played.
I was 10 years old and my bother was 9 when we both tried out for Little League baseball. Back then you had to earn your way onto a team or get sent down to a “farm team” (that’s right, our Little League had farm teams where you could hone your skills, if you had any to begin with). Not everyone got a trophy for just showing up. My brother made it and i didn’t. I didn’t even make a farm team. I was devastated and there was no end to the teasing and got into plenty of fights over not even being picked as even a farm team player! (I had already done my 2nd show at San Bernardino Civic Light Opera, “The Music Man” and heard a lot of “Hey Lanning! Where’s your tutu?”) After several black eyes and scrapes I resigned myself to watching my brother play every week. I still had so much passion for the game and was proud my brother did so well so young. (he was put in center field and I remember him making a catch over the fence that was pretty much uncatchable!)
There was this kid on an opposite team by the name of Mark Paulis who was “THAT” kid. He was the kid that got the good grades, was great at any sport and all the girls liked him. THAT KID. Everyone wanted to be friends with Mark and he was a decent type and fairly gracious, given his stature, not to mention a couple years older than me. When you’re that young, a even two years seems like a lifetime.
One night my brother Billy’s team was playing Mark’s team and while I was getting a snow cone, Mark was up to bat. The concession stand was fairly close to Mark’s team’s dugout and I had just bought the snow cone and turned around when Mark hit a home run way over the fence! As he was rounding the bases and touching home plate I was standing right next to the entrance of his dugout! He was headed straight for me! I sooo wanted to say something cool to Mark. And what did I yell out??? “HEY MARK! NICE TRY!” (WTF!!??) He looked at me as though I had 3 heads and I wanted to melt like the snow cone I just bought!! IDIOT! Stupid! stupid! I walked away in abject horror and shame, knowing that Mark and I would NEVER be friends.
Well, things change and when my High School/College band, Tolbekin, was the big fish in the local Inland Empire pond (the pretentious name for the Riverside/San Bernardino general area). We played all the big gigs around the area (proms, dances, store openings with bubble gum contests, you know, the big time!) Mark loved our band, we became friends, despite my 10 year old blunderbuss of stupid and occasionally he’d show up at one of our gigs. We’d be taking a 15 minute break and he’d saunter over to the stage and say, “Hey Lanning! Nice try!”