This column first appeared in editions of The Times and The News-Star Sunday, September 8, 2018
I would rather eat 12 bowls of horse triggies than to drive 2,600 miles in 13 days in a motor home to visit the Grand Ole Opry, the Little League World Series, and Graceland.
But my dear friend Staff did, and he is happier than a kid with a candy cane.
Different strokes. It’s what makes the world go ’round.
It is hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since a group of us began our sweat-stained, eye-blacked, here’s-how-to-wear-a-cup journey as Little League Dads. This was before teenage car insurance and prom dates, back when your biggest problem was who you were going to bat sixth.
Staff is one of that crew, a member of our Girls’ Lunch Bunch that still attempts to get together regularly for eats or to watch a Super Bowl or something. (None of us ex-Little League Dads are girls but none of us are Real Men either so…Girls’ Lunch Bunch just seemed to fit a lot better than Men’s Lunch Bunch.)
Most of us served time on the Little League Board, but Staff ran extra laps. Even after his sons had outgrown Little League, he continued to serve on the board and was president I don’t know how many times, the FDR of Shreveport Little League. Mow a field. Umpire a game. Fill out All-Star paperwork. Staff was a five-tool administrator.
And of course at the ballparks he wore a hat that, in big block letters, read “STAFF.” Thus the nickname.
So his dream had always been to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. Talked about it for years. And years. And a couple of weeks ago, after the championship game, in a folding chair beside his motor home and in the shadow of the Williamsport, he called me to say the Eagle had landed.
“This is a trip,” he said, “that everyone should make.”
He saw five games in four days: a game Thursday, off-day Friday, the U.S. and International championships Saturday, then the consolation game and the Big Game Sunday.
“Sat on The Hill for two and in the stands for three,” he said.
“The Hill” is the ultimate outfield skybox. “Best seat in the house,” Staff said. It’s at least a 45-degree angle; many fans cut the back legs of their chairs down to nubs so they can sit level. Staff tried walking down it and almost rolled into left field. So to save his health and his marriage and his chairs, he and his wife Connie and sister-in-law Kathy sat on the level spot at the top of the hill.
“Everyone was so gracious,” he said. “And these players were treated like rock stars. If they don’t have a game, they’ll wear their hat and jersey. If two or three of them are walking together, people will come up to them and ask them for their autographs or get them to pose for pictures. It’s crazy. I was talking to this one guy and was about to tell him it was sort of weird to be asking kids for autographs, but right before I did, he took off his hat and showed me under his bill: no telling how many autographs he had on there.”
They’d visited the Grand Ole Opry on the way up, then drove north. “I saw a sign that said ‘New York City, 300 miles,’” Staff said. “I knew then I was a long way from home.”
Our trio accomplished their mission in Williamsport, then hit Philadelphia the next day. Bought a $5 pass and took a tour of maybe a dozen of 18 different spots that busses let you off and pick you up at. Got his picture taken with the Rocky statue. Saw where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Said the Liberty Bell was all it was cracked up to be.
Then they visited much-loved ones in Knoxville before spending two nights with Elvis in Memphis. They lucked out and just happened to hit Graceland on the day when Graceland personnel were moving the body. (Just funnin’! Too soon?)
After wrestling the motor home back into his Shreveport driveway, he climbed out a sore and tired but satisfied man, a guy who’d finally checked “Little League World Series” off his Bucket List.
“To see the stuff you’ve been looking at for 30 years on television…I thought it was great,” he said. “TV doesn’t do it justice. There’s nothing like the real thing.”