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The Observer June 23

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The Observer is here to tell you that there is nothing like being in a room crammed full with several thousand people who could kick your ass. With both hands tied behind their back. Comatose. In the middle of a rainstorm. We refer, of course, to the big (OK, immense) tae kwon do tournament downtown. We tucked in our elbows and made sure we knew where the exits were. We jest, of course. As a group, these are also perhaps the most courteous men and women, boys and girls, even teen-agers, that you’re likely to encounter anywhere. We left our black belt — gathering dust for five years now — at home, but we still drew an “excuse me, ma’am” every time we even came close to getting bumped into. On Friday night, we attended the opening ceremony, an elaborate piece of theater complete with pyrotechnics and jumbo video screens and pulse-quickening taiko drummers. Mayors Jim Dailey and Pat Hays, Secretary of State Charlie Daniels and retired Convention and Visitors Bureau director Barry Travis welcomed the crowd. The mayors kept their remarks brief, but Daniels and Travis got more into the spirit of things. The Observer really wishes we could report that they smashed cinderblocks with their foreheads or poked their index fingers through the side of a Coke can, because how cool would that be, but we’ll give them props nonetheless for succeeding at the somewhat less ambitious feat of hammer-fisting through a 1 x 12. Wow, The Observer thought when the king-size secretary took to the stage in his white dobok top and honorary black belt, this could really be embarrassing. Had the cameras recorded for posterity Daniels’ fist bouncing harmlessly off a little ol’ piece of pine board (remember, 5-year-olds break boards in this organization) it wouldn’t have taken Karl Rove to figure out how to parlay that into some Democrats-aren’t-real-men campaign commercial. They probably would have insinuated he eats quiche, too. We took in the national pastime, too, last week, watching the Pirates v. Red Sox game Thursday at Lamar Porter Field. Now this is baseball, The Observer thought. Gawky boys with changing voices, hot to hit it out of the park. A real stadium, its bleachers running from first to home to third, shaded by a roof and cooled by a breeze that carried off into nowhere any advice parents might have been shouting to their boys. The arcane rules of baseball were being taught on and off the field. (“They make them up as they go along,” the wife of the league “commissioner” revealed.) Pirates’ moms advised The Observer not to call the boys the “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Their mothers call them that and they hate it. But that’s the extent, it appeared to The Observer, of parental interference, putting this neighborhood league — Revitalizing Baseball in Inner Cities — as far from other leagues as the earth from the moon. These boys are out to have fun and play ball; their coaches — often their dads — hope to sneak in some of life’s lessons during the season as well. None of the parents at the game we saw opened a vein when their sons overthrew it or after the right fielder and second baseman collided and dropped the ball. Cheers went up when one boy got his first hit of the season. It’s laid-back ball in a real ballpark, Little Rock’s first to have lights. The Observer connects with Lamar Porter Field and RBI. We were once chosen to present the Human Vacuum Cleaner a bouquet of yellow and (dyed) green carnations (our school’s colors). The Observer was also a regular at Ray Winder Field in the late 1970s, John Young’s heyday. We saw him hit that homer at his last at-bat. In 1988, Young started RBI to give city kids something better to do than get in trouble. Thanks to grants from Major League Baseball, Lamar Porter Field has a new fence and bathrooms and there’s money for fields at Whetstone and Billy Mitchell Boys and Girls Clubs. RBI brings together boys from the neighborhood and surrounds — even Episcopal Collegiate — to play recreational ball. One kid walks to practice and games; no one’s sure where his home is, but they’re sure glad he’s got a team to be part of. When Brooks Robinson was fielding balls at Lamar Porter, he was something to watch. The 14-year-olds we cheered for, while not in Robinson’s league, are getting better all the time.

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