Starting Baseball in Haverhill, 1961

Starting Baseball in Haverhill, 1961

By Mike McCormick

I was standing on the grass behind our back door when Dad emerged with a baseball glove and ball.

“I got this for you,” he said as he handed it to me. “Try it on, see if it fits.”

I slipped the mitt easily onto my left hand.  I could hardly move the glove’s fingers when I tried to flex it with my hand. The brown mitt had no pocket- it was the kind players used in the “old days.”


I looked at Dad sensing that something was wrong with the glove. He read my eyes.

“You’ll have to break it in.   We’ll rub some oil on it tonight. I got you a

ball too. Let’s go in the yard and play catch.”

Dad stepped nine or ten feet from me. He tossed me a soft under hander.

I reached for the ball with my glove hand. The ball bounced off the leather and fell to the grass. When I picked it up Dad said, “Watch how I catch this. Two hands. The glove is not to catch the ball with. You catch with your hands. The glove is just for protection, so your hand won’t hurt.”

I tossed the ball to Dad. He snatched it out of the air; one hand stopped the ball, the other folded over it to make sure it was secure.

“Now you try.”

He tossed the ball softly my way. As soon as my glove touched the ball, I brought my right hand over it.

“That’s good. See you don’t need those big gloves. If you catch right, this is all the glove you’ll need.”

Dad tossed every throw with great care. He knew each time he let a throw go, success or failure hung in the balance.  Luckily for us both, I caught far more tosses than I dropped.

Each time I threw the ball to Dad, he focused intently. He seemed to look the ball all the way into his hands. I was impressed; he could catch anything with only his bare hands.

I beamed when we entered the house together. He walked down into the cellar and returned carrying a red, metal rectangular can with a plastic spout.  He asked for my glove.  He sat down and put the mitt in his lap. Then he squirted some oil from the container onto the center of my glove. He took his fingers and rubbed the oil into the leather. “This is how you soften the glove,” he said.

He handed me the glove. And I slipped my hand into it.

“Hold it out.”

I reached the glove towards him. He squirted more oil into it.

“Now you go ahead and rub it in.”

I began working the oil into the leather with my fingers.

“Go ahead, push hard. You can’t hurt it.”

I pressed hard and rotated the oil with my fingertips until all that was left was a burnished area where I’d rubbed.  I raised the glove towards my face to get a closer look.  The sweet smell of leather and oil wafted into my nose.  I had never liked a smell more in my life. This, I thought, is what it’s like to be a baseball player.

I have remembered that night, those feelings of pride, of warmth, of love and closeness to Dad my entire life.


Dad signed me up to play baseball in the Police Athletic League (PAL), the league for boys in Haverhill’s working-class neighborhoods. The teams carried the names of sponsoring businesses.  I was placed on Kramer Shoe.

I missed every pitch from the coach during my first practice. When I threw a ball, the toss often hit the ground before reaching my targeted teammate. Despite Dad’s tutoring session, I dropped most tosses thrown my way.

I have no memory of getting help with my swing, catching or throwing. Nobody suggested that I might do better with a glove with a large pocket.

At the conclusion of the practice, the coach pulled out three cardboard boxes filled with freshly folded uniforms from the trunk of his green Ford sedan. The pants and shirts were bright white with red lettering. The same colors as the Boston Red Sox I thought.

We gathered around.  The coach called out the name of each team member to come forward for a uniform. As each player stepped to the front, Coach spread the jersey up against his chest to try to gage if it would fit.  If the jersey size was good enough, Coach proclaimed a match. I probably squirmed like a dog waiting for a bone as I anticipated my name to be called. I’d be so happy and proud to show Mom, Dad, and my friends my uniform,

Each teammate peeled away as soon after he received gear.  Finally, I was the only player left on the practice field. I stepped towards Coach.  He looked at me silently for a moment.  The boxes that held the uniforms were now empty.  He told me that he had run out.  I could still be on the team though.  And he would make sure that I got a hat.


I burst into tears when I reached home. I can imagine the pain Mom and Dad must have felt seeing my distress. Mom told me not to worry, things would be alright.

I was not home very long when I remembered my plain gray sweatshirt.  I also remembered that my mother had a red permanent marker that she used to write my name on the inside of my jacket so we wouldn’t lose it at school.

I found the sweatshirt. I asked Mom if I could use her marker. I spread the sweatshirt on a table.

I counted off my teammates in my head. As much as I could figure, our team had seventeen players and myself.  I turned the sweatshirt backside up. As carefully as I could, I wrote the number 18.

I turned the shirt on its front side. Slowly, very slowly, I wrote the words KRAMER SHOE.

When I arrived at Fox Field for our first game against Letoille Roofers, I was disappointed that nobody made a comment about my improvised jersey. I was proud of the job I’d done.

Coach called out the names and positions of the starting lineup. My name was not called.


Our team fell behind right away. After a few innings Coach began substituting for the starters. Letoille’s lead kept mounting.  By the last inning of the six-inning game, the Roofers had scored eighteen runs. Kramer Shoe had not scored.

As we began our last at-bats, I was painfully aware that I was the only player on the team who had not played. I was sitting with my head down at the far end of our wood plank bench when Coach called my name.

“McCormick, grab a bat.  You’ll be up third this inning.”

I leaped to my feet and scampered to the bat pile where I selected a 29-ounce bat. As I stepped towards a spot behind the bench where I could take some practice swings, I felt a hard whack on my head that drove me to the ground.

Teammates roared with laughter.

I leaped back up. The teammate who’d inadvertently hit me with his own practice swing walked away.


The coach didn’t say anything.  I stepped to a spot behind the bench for practice swings.

By the time I headed to the plate there was one out.

The umpire called time out.

He asked me where my uniform was. I told him I was wearing it.

I started to explain that I had to make my own because the coach had run out when he noticed my shoes.

“Tie your shoes,” he ordered.

My parents had not taught me to tie shoes yet. I bent down, fiddled with the strings, and tried to make some type of knot.

The umpire grew impatient. He stooped down and tied each shoe. Then he ordered me to get up to the plate and get ready.

The pitcher threw three pitches.

I swung and missed each throw.

Nobody spoke to me as I walked to the bench.


I stuck with the team. I batted in late inning games when we were well behind. I did hit one ground ball to Peter Kelley, the southpaw pitcher, when we played Andover Cabinet. I never reached base with a hit, but I walked twice against Hamel Leather.

I never scored.

5 Responses to Starting Baseball in Haverhill, 1961

  1. David Daniel says:

    Mike, this is a terrific piece . . . full of precise details. It’s painful, for sure, but very real to the experience everyone has, young and old, sports related or otherwise, all through life. I hope there’s another chapter to come.

  2. Ed DeJesus says:

    This is a very poignant piece. As a little leaguer from 1958 to 1962 and a coach from 1990 to 1998, I was right there with you on every swing and miss. I saw many kids quit before the season ended.

    We didn’t have T-ball leagues to break kids in when they were five or participation trophies in the ‘60s like we did when I coached my son’s teams in the ’90s.

    Your parents were proud of you for sticking it out, and they would be proud of this piece. I’m sure you never quit anything you started in life. If this is the beginning of a memoir book, you are off to a great start.

  3. Paul Marion says:

    Mike, Thanks for this essay. The experience you describe is closer to that of most kids, boys and girls, who want to play, who want to get in the game, but rarely stand out. I know you made the team in high school in one sport or more. That’s an accomplishment, but what I hope is that you had fun in five thousand games in your neighborhood and at school during recess with your friends and classmates while growing up. It takes a real sportsman to write about such a tough beginning on the baseball field.

  4. Michael Mccormick says:

    Thanks for the comments on my piece called “Starting Baseball in Haverhill, 1961.”

    Paul and Walter, growing up in Haverhill’s Acre in the sixties, baseball was a summer lifestyle. We played tons of games with baseballs: 300, bases, home run derby, wall ball, to name a few. And there was trading baseball cards, playing tops, and watching the Sox on tv. and listening on radio. Organized little league was just a sliver of the childhood baseball experience!And yes, there was lots of fun and joy!!!!!

    Ed and David, the piece is a chapter in an unpublished memoir : “Younger Than Yesterday: A Memoir of a Sports and Music Fan.” You can find several other chapters that previously appeared here and in the “Lowell Review” in this blog’s archives.

    Thanks for reading and for the comments. Thanks to Dick and Paul for publishing this and other pieces.

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