Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tri-Sagas at Sagamore Hill - The McCoys & McCooks

(Gus note:  Another amusing recollection written by Danny recalling his early memories of befriending Kendall; this one covering their first meetings and baseball.  Other words about these two friends of mine have been published in the blog…..Kendall’s A Song for Leo….and one I wrote recalling both of them.  Good kids, good men.)

 Tri-Sagas at Sagamore Hill 
by Danny McCoy

After the fall semester of my 7th grade at William James High School we moved from Avenue A in Poly to Hampshire Blvd. The new house provided more room for our family of five. Ronnie and I still shared a room, but our younger sister, Jana, now had a room for herself. The lot was deep enough so that my dad fenced in an old chicken yard so that his horse, Sliver, also had a new corral. Silver served dad well as he was a member of the Mounties in the Moslah Shriners.

Across the street on Hampshire was the Sagamore Hill Baptist Church parsonage for Pastor Fred & Elizabeth Swank.  They had a double lot which provided spill over parking when committee members or others from the congregation came to visit.

I soon discovered the McCook family who lived a block away. We immediately had a kinship. Kendall was my age and he too had an older brother named Danny who had enrolled in the new Eastern Hills. My brother Ronnie chose to remain at Poly High School. Kendall and I would often walk to my new Junior High, Meadowbrook. We went through the football spring training and spent several summer mornings at Sagamore Hills Elementary.  If I recall, Kendall, soon to be the new quarterback would stand in the shade on the playground and throw passes as I learned the right end post routes - slant, stop & go while trying to catch passes in the sun. We went on to play together at Meadowbrook and our team won the City Championship in 1959.

Kendall also introduced me to Sagamore Hill Baptist Church. Although my family was active members at Ash Crescent Methodist Church, Sagamore had more extensive and active youth programs. They were constantly recruiting young Christian soldiers. You did not have to be a member to participate in the program, but you had to be in attendance at a church function at least once a week. So for the summer of 1959, I was to become a Royal Ambassador.

The Reverse Steal

Sagamore was part of the church softball league in Fort Worth.  On our team I was assigned to Right Field. In the major leagues Right Field is reserved for the big sluggers such as Josh Hamilton. In the church league, Right Field was for the weakest of the nine players. In practice I could only manage to catch 80% of the pop flies that came my way. And since it was embarrassing to drop a ball now and then, I would move close to the edge of the infield.  The thought process was that if the ball was hit over my head, my teammates would be more tolerant and tolerant of my occasional drops.

So one summer night while swatting mosquitoes, the batter hit a sharp single that took one bounce into my glove.  I turned to throw to Second base as coached. But since I was already so close to the infield, I redirected my throw to First.  The runner was out and my fellow teammates who had poor depth perception let loose with enthusiastic shouts for the perceived power of my newly found strong arm. As the inning ended and as in most memorable defensive efforts, the player that performs well seems to come up to immediately bat. So as I brushed off the congratulatory comments in the dugout, I picked up a discarded bat and headed for home plate.

On the very first pitch I hit a strong chopper down the Third base line. It was just high enough that I was able to beat out the throw for an infield hit.  There were no First or Third base coach for base runners. We were on our own. So in a lull I easily stole Second base. My teammates were now supporting my renewed presence on the field.

Within this unique moment a fifteen year old teenager standing on a field-of-dreams can be somewhat confused and teeter between self-confidence and over-confidence. Teenagers can be cocky and arrogant at the same time. And they can be both naturally annoying and so was I.

So in was in this self-centered moment with the Second Baseman keeping me close to the base, I decided to steal another base. This time I opted for First base instead of Third base since it was going to be somewhat easier. So with a sudden burst of speed and a cloud of white dust I slid back into First base. At first I suspect that everyone thought I was heading to the dugout, but when I remained, dusting myself off and standing on the base the two umpires came over to discuss this unique situation. The play eventually stood and it was my first reverse steal!

After the forced confusion, play continued and I was just determined to steal Second again as they were not to let me. With the encouragement of my excited and now befuddled teammates,

I put on a bit of an obnoxious agitating show at First base. The pitcher was intent on preventing me from stealing again. He tried to pick me off several times. It was during this distraction that he ended up walking the second batter.  I was now back on Second base and it was a magical moment.  There was no end to my taunts.  I quizzed the Short Stop and the Second Baseman.  Have I been here before? And for the first time in my young life I was able to use a foreign word in the correct context:   Does this seem like deja vu to you too?

The bizarre inning came to a close when one of our better players hit a double and the score was now 2 to 0.  As I made my triumphal return to the dugout, the coach pulled me from the game and sent me to the bench (something about lack of Baptist sportsmanship).  His lack of understanding of the purpose of the game most likely limited any future coaching opportunities for him. I of course will always remember my reverse steal. It also reminds me to always review where you have been and the consequences that got you where you are today.

Bible Sword Drill

This educational religious exercise is not as wide spread as I first thought. When I retell the story to other Sword Drill participants there seems to be different rule variations in the many conferences.  Early on I had read the entire Bible as part of the challenge of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. There was probably a free pizza incentive included. At that point it was the only biblical competition that I was aware of.  But the Southern Baptist had a nifty way to get their youth to know the Good Word.  In the competitive Bible Sword Drill youngsters would line up on the stage or next to the altar steps waiting for the instructions:  Soldiers of Christ draw your swords.  We would then pull up our Bibles that were at our side and prepare for the challenge.  When any event was offered at Sagamore, Pastor Swank would always do it right.  When he announced from the Sunday night pulpit that the winner of the Sword Drill would get to go free to summer camp at Latham Springs, he had my complete attention - even without the Ritalin.  Latham Springs Baptist Camp & Retreat just southeast of Hillsborough was a sought after destination. 

Since I was not a member, I had to get permission from the Youth Committee to compete. With limited funds at home, this would be my only opportunity to join my friends for a week of fun interrupted by brief gospel moments.  I was focus on my goal.  After several qualifying rounds, I somehow managed to be included in the final twelve contestants. My Bible was old, but I was familiar with the index and there was an identifiable indention between the Old and New Testaments.

As we stood before the congregation, I noted that there were more girls than boys. I just knew that one of those non-dating, studious females was going to interfere with my fun in the sun.

The three judges explained the rules, but they were somewhat confusing. A scripture would be called out and the participants would have to locate as quickly as possible the chapter and verse.  The proctor would say:  2nd Corinthians, 7th Chapter, 11th Verse. At that point the student soldier would step forward prepared to read on request:  It is difficult to be confronted with our sin and -

If you were the last one to step forward or if you somehow read the incorrect verse, it could be a cause for elimination. And although if you were the first one to step forward that did not necessarily mean that you would be the first required to cite what you had located. The judges would also randomly select as a touchstone, different contenders to read to make sure all were participating honestly.

After a rather long anxious session we were down to the Final Three.  I started to feel the cold water at Latham Springs caressing my body; taste the early morning hot pancakes with maple syrup; singing Kum Ba Yah while consuming campfire baked endless s’mores; visualize my canoe gliding across the lake; eating the gospel bird on Sunday signifying the end of the camp or capturing a glimpse of a mystery wispy Dallas girl with her long hair and freckles on her  . . .   And suddenly my private serene moment was interrupted by  Proverbs, 23rd Chapter, 23rd Verse  . . .

I was just on the final precipice to reach of my summer goal.  Only two girls stood in my way. Chapter and verses were now being called out in rapid fire. In this final stage of the competition the congregation could sense that the Drill was coming to a close. I had step forward for three times. I was first on one and second on the other two. Yet, all three times, I was the one singled out to cite the required verse.  On the fourth verse request, I just knew they would not call on me for four times in a row. So as soon as the chapter and verse was called out, I fumbled a bit and step forward. The two group daters shyly followed behind me. So I was startled when the judge called out my name for the fourth straight time!

Those that were there that summer night including myself were not quite sure what happened next.  Did I actually find the 23rd  Verse before the Bible somehow fell from my grip or was it just an adolescent ruse?  Did God intervene to cause the Good Book to tumble in slow motion to the floor so that a Methodist boy could best the Baptist at their own game?  The judges gathered to discuss. Nothing like this had ever happened before. 

There was a restless mummer in the pews.  A dark shadow approached and hovered over the judges table. Then an announcement was made: The judges have decided that all three of you have won a free trip to summer camp!

As I had expected the camp was just as great, thanks to my neighbor. Yes, it was Pastor Fred Swank that had risen from his seat to convince the judges to allow the McCoy Boy free passage. Even then we knew Pastor Swank was legendary.  During his 42 year tenure, he was a catalyst for over 100 young people who entered the ministry.  When asked what was behind the success and rapid growth of his ministry. He replied that it was very simple and it could be summed up in 4 letters:  C A M P.  Amen Brother Swank

The Whisper

Our Baseball coach at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church was the Assistant Youth Director. He was also the Basketball coach; taught a Sunday School class; work with the youth choir; served as Camp facilitator; hosted fund raising activities; offered counseling services; sponsored a Boy Scout troop and was in charge of the Royal Ambassador program. He was not that multi-talented, he just seemed to want to be around young people. The Church provided his housing near the east parking lot. So he would always available for those of us who did not have transportation to all the events.

When we were returning from the baseball & basketball games, we would occasionally go Billboarding (this is where each one of us would select a billboard and become a part of it as the others would turn around and drive by for the full effect). You could climb up and pretend to be stuck on a buttered slice of Mrs. Baird’s Bread or have your behind burned by the cancer stick the Marlboro Man was holding. There were always plenty of laughs and we were always treated to late night fast food snacks. It was our only chance to cruise like the California kids.

There was an informal, unorganized game that we played on the way home, called the Whisper. It goes something like this:  At the next stop sign get Mike which was code for jumping on Mike; taking all of his clothes off except for his BVDs or Fruit-of-the Looms; pushing him out of the car and leaving him on the side of the road or the median. Of course we would eventually turn around and pick him up or if we decided to extend this hilarious adventure, we would do repeat drive-bys and throw out clothing articles and sometime it would be his own clothes! Note that  if you did not receive the Whisper, it meant that you were the target.

Kendall and I had little to worry about. We took care of each other and if the Whisper happened to be one of our names, we deflected and change it back to some other unsuspecting pimple face peer.  And because we lived close to each other, we were always dropped off together. We had already learned and out instinct was  never be the last one to be taken home. 

Then one night when we were in the middle of the back seat rugby scum in search for the victim’s clothes, Kendall and I caught a frightening sight. Our Assistant Youth Minister had an excited leering look that we had never seen before. It was very creepy. The Whisper had turned into something else. As the whispers grew and questions were being asked, the Assistant was soon assisted off the church campus.

1 comment:

Sherri Sledge Pulliam said...

I'm laughing out loud at the "Reverse Steal" and the "Winner of the Bible Sword Drill" and creeped out at the Asst. Youth Pastor who loved being around young people so much!! How naive I was to think this didn't exist back then!!
Danny your are a very talented and entertaining writer. Thanks for the great stories and the laughs.