Sumter Henderson and the Tennessee Smokies

I’ve been writing a lot about Joyce and the iPhone, and have been forgetting my priorities, which are (in order)

  1. baseball
  2. bros
  3. beer
  4. blog
  5. banging

I’m still waiting on a better B word for chicks. Open to suggestions here.

So I thought I’d get back to baseball. No, not another piece about the mess the Dodgers are in, but back to when I was growing up in Maryville and my team was the Tennessee Smokies. The Smokies played in Knoxville, and were as close to big league baseball as you could get in Eastern Tennessee.

For the record, they’re the AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. I knew that the Cubs organization ran the Smokies, and I knew that the players for the Smokies all dreamed of making it to the Cubs…but Chicago was a long ways off from Maryville and Knoxville. They had Yankees there. And I don’t mean the baseball team. (The Cubs are in the National League anyway lol.) When you’ve lived your whole life in the South and the furthest north you ever got was Baltimore one weekend when you were 8, places like Chicago sounded cold and unfriendly and kinda scary.

I’ll admit it: when I was growing up, Knoxville was the big city. Pasadena – my “small town” corner of huge LA – has nearly as many inhabitants (146,000) as Knoxville (184,000) – but Knoxville was big for a boy from Maryville. It’s less than half an hour from where I lived to the “big city”, but Knoxville was still a different place. We didn’t feel like we lived in the suburbs or anything. Maryville’s its own place, even if it only has 28,000 residents and one high school (which had a great baseball team for a few years lol.)

Dad works in Knoxville, and we’d go into the city a lot. Summers, we’d also go to a lot of Smokies games. The Smokies play in Smokies Stadium, which is actually in Kodak, and east of Knoxville while home is pretty much due south. There are a couple ways to get from home to the ballpark. I just checked: Google says to go through the center of Knoxville, but y’all can contact me if you want to know the gangsterass way to get from Maryville to a Smokies game in close to half an hour.

Remember what I said about Dad saying he’d kick my ass if I ever made a rolling stop? I wasn’t some 16 year old asshole behind the wheel who’d go 90 because it’s cool. Believe me, if I was gonna get my ass kicked for getting caught missing a stop, I couldn’t imagine what Dad would do if I got a speeding ticket. So I mean I know a gangsterass way to get to the ballpark without having to risk a speeding ticket.

Gangsterass and smart.

It’s a shorter drive from where I live now to Dodger Stadium, but, especially if you go the gangsterass way, getting to Smokies Stadium from home wasn’t a problem. Tennessee traffic is nothing like LA traffic, so most of the time you can roll the windows down, crank up George Strait and enjoy the ride.

So Dad and I would go to a lot of Smokies games during the summer. Close to once a week. It was our thing. A couple times each summer we’d take Mom and Melanie Kate along (and Portia and maybe Cordelia when they were old enough) and Dad and I would always wonder why we did it. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a ballgame with people who don’t want to be there. They fidget. And keep getting up to buy stuff. I’m real close to Melanie Kate…but the one thing we don’t share is my love of baseball.

Dad had a rule: you got one large Mountain Dew and one hot dog (mustard and relish!) at the beginning of the game, and then ice cream around seventh inning stretch time. Dad was right: food gets in the way of keeping score, and I was the kind of baseball fanatic who kept score of every game he went to. (My books of score sheets are probably still in the attic back home.) I even kept score of games I was playing in. Yeah, I’ve even got some scoresheets where I wrote E6.

Minor league players come and go as they make their way through the system and hope to break through to the majors. (Then I grew up and lived that lol.) So the Smokies players didn’t stick around too long. You’d get all excited about one guy, and then he’d be gone the next year. So I grew up idolizing Cal Ripken Jr. and had Cal Ripken Jr. posters on my walls. I loved the Smokies, but it was always for the team rather than for any one player in particular.

That all changed when Sumter Henderson came to Knoxville.

 

 

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