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Work of Art — A graveyard for baseballs

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By Art Trujillo

It’s great to come across someone who remembers when we played baseball without needing an instruction manual, and when we played with baseballs without covers. My dad wondered where all his black friction tape had gone before he saw the criss-cross patterns of my baseball — one of the few in the neighborhood.

In a column a few years back, I wrote about how Railroad barrio boys of the ‘40s and ‘50s got by, using the natural terrain as our baseball field. The street that dead-ends on the east side of Columbia was a natural for baseball. The tracks (and sometimes the Super Chief) often prevented baseballs from crossing the tracks and rolling all the way to Pecos Street.

Too many balls that our neighbor Don Archuleta sent over the tracks never returned, causing the majority of us to rule that “‘over the fence’ is out.”

One person who grew up in the neighborhood, Lawrence Sandoval, just last week validated my earlier description of baseball-playing conditions of our childhood. Lawrence recalls that most of our impromptu games were played on rocks and gravel. I visited with Lawrence  last week, and we discussed the unpaved status of our barrio.

Lawrence is the youngest of seven, including Johnny, Vicky, Narciso, Chris, Alfred and Efren. Chris, an Immaculate Conception High School graduate, even played in a state championship baseball game.

Lawrence remembered the baseball conditions, where first base was “that parked car over there”; second was “the sleeping dog on the road”; and third base was “that sharp rock over there” that keeps tire-repair shops in business.

It is true: Railroad remained unpaved for decades. But suddenly, only the 600 block of that street received a blacktop shortly after that block also got a councilman, with the rest of us needing to wade in order to navigate the streets. Today, all of Railroad Avenue is paved, but we don’t see too many kids playing ball there.

Lawrence remembers having asked, “Who stole our third base?” after road crews applied a smooth layer of asphalt on that street. And clearly, Lawrence was referring to a missing base, not a stolen base.

And so it was: We fielders of the dirt-and-gravel sections of Railroad needed to make allowances for the dips, curves and rocks on the street in order to avoid having our temples serve extra duty as gloves. The first time any of us played at Lopez Park, which at the time wasn’t much more than a dirt field, we thought we were in Yankee Stadium.

I felt instantly popular as a boy when neighbors suddenly showed up, inviting me to play ball with them. The real motivation emerged when one of them asked, “If you don’t want to play, can we still use your stuff?” meaning my ball, bat and glove, which I’d bought with money saved from Optic sales.

Don Archuleta, the hitter who usually sent baseballs on one-way trips across the tracks, relocated the fatter end of my bat almost as far as the ball when he took his first swing. It was split, and no amount of Dad’s friction tape could save it.
Some of the players themselves scooped up enough change to help finance a new one — bats sold for about $2.98 at J.S. Torres Auto Supply on Grand. That bat lasted through the summer, and that was mainly because the pitchers usually gave Don a pass to first.

• • •

Last week, I ran into Martin Suazo Sr., an Immaculate Conception School classmate, who put on a workshop on improving one’s basketball shooting ability.

Suazo credited Don, the baseball destroyer, with having shown Suazo the correct way to shoot baskets and, accordingly, to increase accuracy. My only issue with Don as a hoopster was that I knew of the young man’s skills only as a baseball player, his having been a starter for the Robertson Cardinals as an eighth-grader.

Naturally, I’d like to learn more about this copyrighted — yes, copyrighted, 2007 — technique Suazo has developed to improve basketball shooting. More later about what Martin calls The Missing Link.

• • •

If your team loses the coin flip at the end of regulation, there’s a good chance your team will lose the game. That was the outcome of many games that went into overtime: The first team to score wins. Period.

Some coach is likely to correct me ­— I’d welcome that — where I misstate things, but my recollection is that before myriad rule changes, if a high school football game, for example, ended in a tie, that was it. No overtime. And now in college, an elaborate set of rules requires that each team get the ball the same number of times in the overtime. And if a team scores a field goal, for instance, the other team gets the same opportunity.

And scoring points in overtime comes fairly easily, given the fact that each team gets possession quite close to the goal line. That could lead to a 50-47 final score in overtime, even after the teams had tied in the low-20s to create the overtime.

However complicated the new rules are, the overtime is an improvement over the teams’ simply going home, or waiting for a team to score points — any points.

True, scores tend to climb in overtime, but by this much? On Friday, an Albuquerque TV station showed Durango’s high school team having beaten Kirtland Central 42-7 — in overtime.

Someone please explain how a team executes a 35-point play. Or maybe the TV station simply made a typo.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.