As I sat down to write this morning, I looked out the window and saw the sunlight pleasantly slanted through my front-yard oak tree. The outdoor thermometer read 57 degrees. Then I remembered: today is the last day of summer.
That suits me fine. I don’t much like summer, and I haven’t liked it for a long time. Back home in South Carolina, summer meant it would be hell-hot all day and bathwater-hot all night. Even the water at Willow Springs, the local swimming hole, was about the temperature of a Coke left in the car. The only source of air conditioning at the Jowers house was a Hunter Zephair fan, screwed into the frame of the kitchen window, running all day and night.
There were just two things that made South Carolina summer worthwhile: no grouchy old baggy-stockinged schoolteachers chirping in my ear, and plenty of sandlot baseball.
Just about every summer morning, my classmate Glyn Luke would walk out of his house on Sycamore Street carrying his bat and glove. Then he’d knock on the door at the Fields house. The Fields boys fell in behind Glyn, they took a left, then knocked on the door at the Garvin house. The line of ballplayers got longer and wider as the boys walked down Carline Road, picking up two Boyds, a Krepps, a Rhinehart, a Harmon, a Reese and a Jowers. After I joined the group, we picked up a Chitty and a Parrish, then walked to the ball field. We could count on another eight or 10 boys joining us there, and we’d play ball until sunset.
Oddly, I don’t remember being hot at the ball field. I know I must’ve sweated up my shirt and my pants every day, but I don’t remember the heat ever making me want to go home. All I remember is making a few good throws and catches and hitting the ball to the fence now and then.
Fast forward to 1988, when wife Brenda sat up in the middle of the night and said, “I’m quitting the management job at the hospital and I want to have a baby.” I said both decisions were fine with me, and I’d be happy to start on my end of the deal right then and there.
A few weeks later, we found out we were having a baby girl. I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for a boy who’d play a little catch with me and take me back to the Burnettown ball field. As it turned out, my little girl turned out to be a better ballplayer than I ever was. When Jess was about 9, one of the umpires at McCabe Park told me that Jess had potential, so I should take her out to Club K and get her trained by professional softball instructors.
Well, don’t you know, after a few months at Club K, learning how to hit, catch, throw and run, Jess met some local softball coaches, who recruited her to play summer ball. Now, I’d never heard of summer ball, so I had to have it explained to me.
Summer ball is what happens when coaches create teams made up of the best players they can find. They take their teams on the road so they can play against strong competition. For most coaches and softball parents, the idea is to improve the girls’ skills so they can get into college on softball scholarships.
Anyhow, eight years ago, we Jowerses started spending all of our summer weekends at softball tournaments, slathered in sunscreen, seeking shade and sweating like peach pickers. At softball tournaments, the girls play Friday night, all day on Saturday and as long as it takes to decide the tournament champ on Sunday. During every minute of every day, the ballplayers’ younger siblings step all over your feet, pour Coke on your spot in the bleachers and earn lots of Wal-Mart ass-whippings, which are meted out right in front of everybody. The softball parents, at least those in Chattanooga, engage in cursing matches and fistfights.
When the day’s games are over, there’s nothing left to do but go back to your no-smoking hotel room, which inevitably smells like smoke and has an air conditioner that can’t even begin to chill a room in Florida in July. The next morning, at 8 o’clock, the whole wang dang doodle starts all over again.
Well, I’m proud to say that as soon as I saw the autumn light and the 57-degree temperature this morning, I was delighted with my realization that I’ll never have to go to a summer ball tournament again. Jess will play high school ball in the spring of 2007 and go to college in the fall. College softball teams play in the winter and spring, and the championships are all decided before the miserable, hell-hot weather hits.
The end of summer ball couldn’t have come at a better time for us Jowerses. I swear, if I’d had to endure one more summer-ball season, I would’ve had to buy an RV with extra air conditioning and two satellite dishes. And I probably would’ve gotten thrown in jail in Chattanooga for correcting some outie-naveled, short-shirted, Cheetos-eating softball sibling who just poured Sam’s Soda on my bleacher spot.
Now I can spend what would’ve been the RV and bail money on daughter Jess’ college tuition.