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Memories Take Me Back

For some odd reason, my mind has been filled with a plethora of memories lately, mostly from my youth. On one particular day, I found myself transported to the time when I was nine or ten years old.

The afternoon edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel had just arrived via "Jonesy," the carrier, in his faded blue-green Chevy. I took the paper from his hand and plopped down onto the grass beside the driveway. I opened the newspaper to the sports section and began scanning the baseball box scores.

The Braves had not yet moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta (they wouldn't do so for another three years), and no other major league team was nearby, so I was searching for a favorite team to follow. Ironically for a Southern boy, I latched onto the New York Yankees, and it was their box score I was looking for that day.

The Yankees had not only several older, famous players but also several up-and-coming, soon-to-be-famous players on their roster, but all of them were new to me as a fledgling baseball fan. I read about, followed, and pretended to be several of those players as neighbor kids and I played ball on Pappaw's cow pasture.

The names Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer (who later would become an Atlanta Brave), and Bobby Richardson soon became part of my regular vocabulary. I found in our school library and devoured Richardson's autobiography, The Bobby Richardson Story. (I later bought my own copy, which I still have.) He made his debut with the Yankees when I was only one year old, but he was the player I most wanted to be like. That's one reason I always preferred to play second base.

Richardson became an integral part of the Yankees' infield, part of the most feared and formidable double-play combination in the majors. Thanks in part to Boyer, Kubek, and Richardson, the Yankees were the leading American League team in the early 1960s. In 1960, they went to the World Series, during which Richardson drove in 12 runs. In one inning of one game, he hit a two-run single followed by a grand slam. (Not known as a power hitter, he hit only 34 homers in his entire career.) He was named the Series MVP, the only player in World Series history who, as a member of the losing team, won that award. (The Yanks lost that series to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games.) In 1961, 1962, and 1963, they again went to the World Series. In 1963, they won 104 games during the regular season.

The box scores that I once poured over are no more. They have disappeared, just as the traditional newspaper is disappearing, a victim of the march of technological alternatives. Whereas I had to read the box score and imagine those stats coming to life, today we check and see the videos of the actual events mere minutes after they happen. No box score needed.

Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Bobby Richardson when he spoke at the church we were then attending. Knowing it would be crowded, we went early, hoping to meet the great athlete and mentor. We were the first to arrive, but Richardson and the pastor arrived shortly thereafter.

We entered the lobby just after Richardson and talked with him for perhaps ten minutes, during which time I pulled that little paperback autobiography from my pocket and asked him to sign it for me. His eyes widened and he broke into a broad smile when he saw it.

"My!" he exclaimed as he took the book gently in his hands. "I haven't seen one of these in years! Look at that cover price--50 cents!"

The lobby was getting crowded and noisy by that time, and Richardson had a hard time hearing me when I repeated my name so he could personalize the autograph. I thanked him and entered the sanctuary, giving others a chance to speak to the hero.

Only after taking my seat did I open the cover to read his inscription: "To David." No matter. I had the great man's autograph.

Richardson's life, however, was more than sports, although he remained connected to baseball. He coached the University of South Carolina Gamecocks to their first college world series appearance in 1975. He led Coastal Carolina to the Big South Conference championship in 1986. And he coached at Liberty University in the late Eighties.

But underlying Richardson's playing and coaching was a greater priority--his faith. A devout and outspoken Christian, he spoke frequently to churches and other Christian organizations, encouraging young people to live at a higher level (e.g., not gloating when they won or performed well, unlike many of today's professional athletes). He encouraged them to give their hearts to Christ and to live their lives for His glory rather than for self.

Richardson and Mantle shared a close friendship that lasted well beyond their playing years. Mantle had taken the 17-year-old under his wing when he first came to the Yankee organization, and when Mantle lay dying, it was Richardson he called. He wanted him to pray for him. There, Richardson led Mantle to saving faith in Christ, and Mantle died at peace with God. Fulfilling Mantle's dying request, Richardson preached the famous homerun hitter's funeral.

Another memory came to the fore of my mind recently. As a kid, I listened to music on the radio in a day when stations competed fiercely for listeners, using unique ways to keep them tuned to the stations. One of those ways was the request line, whereby listeners could call the station and request that specific songs be played.

One day during the early years of the Vietnam War, I called the WNOX request line and asked them to play Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets" ( I sat glued to the radio, waiting for my song to be played. A few minutes later, I heard B.J. Thomas crooning "Little Green Apples." I never did hear Sadler's song. Perhaps the station employee had misunderstood me. After all, both song titles included the word "green." Or maybe he was an opponent of the war and refused to play any song that was supportive of the soldiers fighting it.

It's funny how the memories come like they did for me. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I'm finding it happens more often lately. Those memories take me back to days when life was (or at least seemed to me to be) simpler and less complicated. And I still miss those box scores!

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