Watching Saturday’s Moncks Corner Park and Recreation’s Opening Day ceremonies on Saturday took me back, and I mean way back.
Seeing seven-year-olds parade onto the field wearing their brand new baseball uniforms for the first time, it reminds you what Superman felt like when he slipped on the red cape and big red “S” for the first time. You feel like you can do anything, maybe even fly.
Opening Day in my neighborhood was a big thing.
It was like Christmas in May, and our first instructions from our coaches – which was the 11th Commandment to us: Thou shalt not wear thy baseball hats before Opening Day.
Every Opening Day Saturday we decorated our Galaxy 500 station wagons with crepe paper ribbon, shoe polish and flags and we’d have a parade.
Car decorating became an act of familial and civic pride. I remember my dad duct-taping my Big Bertha whiffle-ball bat to the front grille of the car. It was the most amazing hood ornament I have ever seen. I remember the first autograph I ever signed. My dad gave me a tube of white shoe polish and said, “Autograph the car.”
I was eight.
I couldn’t count beyond 20 using all ten fingers and toes, but I knew what the word autograph meant. I was a baseball player.
The parade, though, was like something out of NASCAR.
Everyone in town would show up along the parade route by 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, many still wearing their pajamas and housecoats. The parade followed a 10-mile parade route through town.
We had eight neighborhoods divided into sections A through H and the parade of 50-to-60 cars drove through each. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and we had to be at the ball fields by 9 a.m. for our Opening Day ceremonies.
The speed limit through our neighborhood streets was a posted 20 mph and it was more a suggestion than enforced law. Back in the day there were no safety concerns or worries about kids falling out of cars.
Our pre-parade safety precaution feature involved our coach hollering, “Everybody hold on and nobody fall out, understand me?”
We didn’t dare disobey our coach so we all held on and nobody ever fell out. We shot through these neighborhoods at a cool 40 mph. We had a lot of ground to cover and not much time.
Opening Day ceremonies were always special. Back before hundred million dollar salaries your average major league baseball besides Pete Rose didn’t make a lot of money, and the out of town ball players like Bobby Tolan, Johnny Edwards and Tony Cloninger rented homes for the year in our neighborhood. So they would attend the ceremony each year and throw out the first pitch.
That’s when I first realized I wanted to earn my living being a baseball player.
You mean I get to play baseball every day and get to dress up in the most super cool baseball uniform ever? And you’re going to pay me?
It’s like I had died and gone to Heaven. And on the first Saturday in May every spring, I did just that.