By: Ray Conner
As I reflect the new year, a year where I’ll soon be turning 60, I think back how sports has been a big part of my life for a very long time.
At a very early age, I was introduced to sports and it became ingrained in me.
To me anything competitive is a sport. From archery to golf to tiddlywinks to Zamboni racing (yeah it’s a thing) is considered a sport.
My earliest memory of sports comes from my family. It started with watching my dad play softball with his brothers in beer games. And then he switched to being an umpire. At a very young age, like most boys I wanted to be just like my dad. I tried to go everywhere with him. I use to go to the bowling alley to watch him bowl. I would keep score and earn a few bucks.
Then it was a trip to the bar where I would challenge patrons in chess.
I went to my first baseball game at Shea Stadium with him to watch the team I still root for today, the New York Mets on a bus where the beer flowed freely and the card games sometimes got very steep in cash.
I can also remember going to field trials. This is a sport that involves dogs, raccoons, a line, and a tree.
Of course before the races or field trials as they are called the betting action took place. I was maybe 10 or 11 years old and was allowed to bet on the dogs. Of course at every trial, permission was needed and my dad was always quick to say yes.
Then there was the stock car racing at Accord Speedway where my dad raced on Friday nights. My mom got into the act one time as she did the powderpuff race. She was doing quite well, but something broke and she wasn’t able to finish the race. The following night it would be a trip to Middletown, NY where we watched a higher form of modified stock car racing at Orange County Speedway.
From there I graduated to Little League baseball. Then American Legion ball and then there was Pony League. Then It was junior high football where I got my first taste of tackle in a real organized way. We used to play tackle, but with no pads and no helmets. I also wrestled as a youth and bowled in the Bantam Leagues. Then it was high school where I played three sports for four years each. Four years of football, four years of wrestling, and finally four years of baseball. I also played golf recreationally, but never got serious about it. I now play lots of golf or I should say as much as I can.
Of course that doesn’t cover it all. I also got the chance to be an umpire where to this day I remember learning the hard way about making sure you get the call right. I was 15 years old and the second umpire did not show up and I got put in the mix. I took my position at first base and did it all remembering how my dad did it when he was umping the bases.
Things were progressing nicely with not a hint of controversy. That would change quickly. The game was close and the teams were battling. A groundball was hit to the short stop and I got in position to make the call. The throw came in and I called the runner out emphatically on what was a close play. Of course the runner started screaming I missed the play. His teammates started giving it to me real good. At the end of the inning I walked to where my dad was standing and he looked at me and said, “You missed that call.”
I responded I thought he was out. He made me go through what had happened. He asked only one question when I was done. “Did you see the foot hit the bag before the ball got there?” I was a little confused and I told him, “I saw the fielder make the catch.” But where was the runner’s foot he asked?” “I was watching the ball coming into the fielder’s glove,” I said.
It was then he told me something I still remember today. You were in position, but you watched the ball and you could not tell where the runner’s foot was. He said, “You have to watch the runner’s feet and listen for the ball to hit the glove then you make the call.” From that point on he made me a better umpire because of that little lesson.
As the years drifted by I decided to go in the Navy where I played on the ship’s softball team, and bowled on the team that represented the ship when we went overseas.
Then when I got out I started playing co-ed softball, continued to bowl, and play pickup basketball games at the park, while the wives were playing softball games.
That was before we moved to the valley where I continued to play softball and even played some adult baseball in Bakersfield trying to recapture the dream.
I played co-ed softball up until just two years ago when I finally put down the glove. I played Men’s League softball, and continued to umpire and referee basketball games. Then it was coaching my kids and others in football and baseball. Of course when they went to high school I became their biggest fan.
In my almost 60 years I have seen a lot of games, played a lot of sports, and have been involved in many others in some way. Of course 22 years ago I got the dream job of writing about sports to keep me in the game so to speak. And I wouldn’t change any part of it.