The Little Leaguer I’ll Never Forget

The Little Leaguer I’ll Never Forget

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Little Leaguer I’ll Never Forget

He was a 100-percent, rollicking, sure-of-himself kid— and because of him I stopped going to the games.

All across America, thousands of kids swarm over Little League baseball fields, their faces alight with anticipation, flushed with victory or clouded with momentary disappointment. I used to be directly involved, and afterward a frequent visitor at the field in my town, rooting not for any particular team, but taking delight in what I’d always considered a marvelous concept.

Then one day, some years ago, I stopped going. I stopped because of Channing Allen Jr. He had a fancy, family middle name—I forget what it was—but everyone called him Chippy.

I managed the Tigers in the mid-1950s, when Chippy was the star pitcher. In the years I managed Little League teams, I never had a kid like Chippy. Once, a friend from an advertising agency phoned and said he was looking for an all-American kid for a big color ad. Freckles, towheaded, a mischievous smile. And in a baseball uniform. By chance was there a kid like that in our Little League? Was there ever! Right on my own team.

They rubbed a bit of dirt on Chippy’s face, skewed his cap around a bit and shot the picture. The ad was a huge success and Chippy got a hundred bucks.

Chippy was one heck of a twelve-year-old pitcher, who could “throw a baseball through the side of a barn,” as big leaguers like to say. I still recall him standing calmly on the mound with bases loaded (usually because of infield errors). He’d glance over at me, kneeling tense and agitated on the dugout step—and grin. There wasn’t a raw nerve ending in that kid’s body. His grin was telling me to relax. Then he’d rear back and burn three straight fast-balls right past the batter for a strikeout.

We discouraged our pitchers from throwing curveballs because their young wrists and forearms are not ready for the stress a curve puts on them. I had to watch Chippy like a hawk, or he’d nip one in. It wouldn’t “roll off the table,” as the saying goes, but it had a nice nickel bend to it. And Chippy would punch the air with his fist as it fooled the batter.

I’d yell at him, and he’d turn to me with a “Who me?” face of freckled innocence. Or he’d come into the dugout after the inning and say slyly, “Heck, I thought you weren’t looking.”

You couldn’t get mad at him. He was just being a 100-percent, rollicking, sure-of-himself kid.

Chippy was our leading home-run hitter and enjoyed swinging for the fences. At least twice, I recall, he was at bat with bases loaded and the count three balls, no strikes. He knew my instructions. You take the next pitch, hoping for a fourth ball to walk in a run. And, of course, the opposing pitcher knew the game, too: Play it right in there for the called strike.

I can still see the grin on Chippy’s face as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. He would dig in and swing. Thwaak! He’d nail it for a homer. “You were supposed to take that pitch,”

I’d remind him sternly as he trotted into the dugout.

“I know, Mr. B.,” he’d say. “But it came up there like a big balloon, and I couldn’t resist.”

Nor could I resist Channing Allen Jr. Irrepressible. Unpredictable. An emerging man-child one moment; a little kid the next.

When Chippy didn’t pitch, he played third base. With his strong arm, he’d often drive me batty. On a grounder he’d field the ball cleanly, bring it up to chest level, and then turn it over in his glove, as if he were examining the seams before getting off his throw and nipping the runner by a half step. I’d once told him Ken Keltner of the Cleveland Indians did the same thing, and after that there was no chance of breaking Chippy of that mannerism. “Don’t worry,” he’d say. “I’ll get him.” I knew he enjoyed my anxiety, and knowing it was part of his fun.

Chippy made our town’s all-star team but was bitterly disappointed that we didn’t get far in the play-offs on the road to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He took defeat seriously. Most kids shrugged it off twelve minutes later, but Chippy wore defeat like an open wound. He was a competitor. “I don’t want to be a good loser. It can lead to bad habits,” he once told me with that impish grin.

I knew he’d be a competitor in life, too. But I lost track of him after he graduated from Little League. Then I heard that he’d gone to college . . . or he hadn’t gone . . . that he’d dropped out “to find himself,” for a while. That was in the mid-1960s. The next thing I heard left me sick to my stomach. . . .

Recently I went to Washington, D.C., on business. But there was something more important I wanted to do there. I took a cab to the Mall and walked along the highly polished black-granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was beautiful and hauntingly dramatic, a fitting tribute to the 57,939 names of the fallen engraved on it.

A park ranger turned the pages in a huge book. His finger sought it out. “Panel 15E,” he said quietly, “line 38.”

I walked down the pathway until I found panel 15E and counted down the lines etched into the gleaming, reflecting granite. There it was: Channing Allen Jr. I stared at it, trying to bring my feelings into focus. But all I could see through my misting eyes was a freckle-faced twelve-year-old on a Little League mound, grinning down at the batter.

It was years ago that I’d heard how he’d been wounded by a sniper’s bullet, and then killed after helping evacuate others who had been hit. The news had stopped my going to Little League games.

I reached up and ran my fingers over Chippy’s name. Then I strode quickly away. But I had noted other names as I sought his. Chippy was in a well-mixed lineup. John Hornyak . . . Ismael Soto . . . Carmine Genovese . . . Leonard Gurwitz . . . Tyrone Jackson . . . Peter Schmidt. A lineup as varied as our own Tiger team: Kelley . . . Di Massio . . . Rappoport . . . Stankowicz. Both sets of names were in perfect American counterpoint. And I knew I could no longer repudiate all that Chippy Allen had epitomized. Not to watch kids play ball again was a false estrangement from reality and unworthy of that name in black granite.

This year I was at the opening of the Little League season, enjoying it immensely. And praying those names like Hornyak, Genovese, Gurwitz, Soto—and Allen—would never again be etched in a stone war memorial.

Jerome Brondfield Submitted by Barbara Chesser, Ph.D.

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