From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Play Ball!

Sports have always played an important role in my family’s life. My father has been involved in every type of sports activity known in the free world. He especially enjoys the game of baseball. As a youngster, he played constantly, and when he was unable to play, he found alternatives. My dad loved the game of baseball so much that he actually moonlighted from his job at U.S. Steel’s Carrie Furnace to sell peanuts at Forbes Field while watching his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates play ball. No problem, until he was so enamored with the game that he failed to see his boss sitting in row five waiting for a snack. Thankfully, his boss loved the game as much as he did. My mother even tells stories of being seven months pregnant and walking all over the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh looking for kids for my dad to play ball with. He loved every aspect of the game and he attempted to bring this same fierce love to his hometown by being involved with Little League baseball.

When I was young, our family did not know what a family vacation at the beach was all about. We shared the lives of seventy-five or so young boys each summer. My dad coached, umpired and even took a swing at running the local league. Anything that needed to be done, he was there ready to help. We have countless stories to share about the numerous things that took place over my dad’s twenty-five years in this game. Perhaps our favorite story involves his brief stint as an umpire attempting to brave a real fan—namely, one little lady that went by the name “Mom.”

As I stated, my dad would do anything to help. One night in late June 1972, the local coaches could not find anyone to umpire an important game between the crosstown rivals of Tri-Town and the Eagles. This was an important event for our small town located in southwestern Pennsylvania. Being that it was an important game, Dad decided he would umpire and take home plate. He swaggered up to the plate and in his deep, infectious voice filled with excitement, he bellowed, “Play ball.” My dad is a fair man and he takes this game seriously. He began calling “strike, ball, strike” and so forth. Each time that he offered his decisive shriek of “strike” during Tri-Town’s turn at the plate, he was greeted with this voice from center field offering numerous insults in a tone that equaled his. He heard everything from, “Can’t you see?” to “Go home, ump.” This badgering continued throughout the first three innings.

As the game wore on, Dad began to become frustrated. This was evident in his voice. Finally, after calling a strike for a young lad about eleven years old, he was thrown a good jab at his need for glasses. My dad stood straight and slowly removed his mask. He called time and began to leave the playing field. He opened the gate and walked down the right side of the fence. He continued and began to round the center-field fence. He took his time and slowly approached the center-field bleachers. He then chose a seat beside his debating partner and introduced himself.

He proudly said, “Hi, I’m Bill Shearer. I’m glad to meet you.” He then looked at the playing field and pointed his finger and hooted loudly, “Play ball!”

Everyone looked stunned, especially the small lad that now occupied the most conspicuous spot at Connellsville’s major-league field. One of the coaches looked puzzled; finally, Dad politely offered, “If she can call them from here, so can I! Play ball!”

The crowd erupted with a thunderous round of applause and laughter. This was the last time that my dad umpired anything, including family squabbles.

As I stated, this is one of my favorite stories related to my dad. I think it brings a famous quotation by John Wooden to light, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.”

Sharon Shearer Harsh

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