You talk about pressure on youngsters in sports? Well, my first real encounter with it came when I was 12 years old.
I was a catcher in the Sellwood-Moreland Little League, which was a pretty good training ground for young baseball players. Good coaches, nice uniforms for the time and our team couldn’t have asked for a better sponsor than the now-long-gone Rettman’s Market.
The only downside to the league was we played our games in Sellwood Park – a nice diamond but it had no outfield fence. You wanted a home run in our league, you had to run it out. And when the other team played its outfielders deep, that was a difficult task.
And that’s what made it so special, once a season, when our whole league got to play in Alpenrose Stadium in Southwest Portland. It was a showplace of a ballpark for kids -- dugouts, press box, PA system, concession stand, plenty of seating for spectators and... It had a fence! You could hit a home run and actually do the home-run trot around the bases.
To a kid in those days, it was like playing in Yankee Stadium.
But when you were a pretty good player, that day came with pressure. I mean, if you wanted a real home run you had to do it there, at Alpenrose, on that one day in the summer.
So the pressure was on that Saturday at Alpenrose when we played our game. As a 12-year-old in Little League, this was my last shot at that fence. One game. And several of my friends had already cleared that fence in earlier games.
Man, everybody knew what was at stake. You think it wasn’t a big deal? Well, one of my friends – whose father was his coach – was actually traded to another team DURING that day, so that he’d get another game at Alpenrose to try to hit one out. He didn’t make it, by the way.
But I did.
I clubbed one over the center-field fence and don’t think I felt my feet hit the ground all the way around the bases. So many decades later, it’s still a pleasant thought. My father, determined to capture the moment on his 8mm camera that day, was so intent on my plate appearance that he forgot to pick up the camera until the ball was on its way out of the little park.
He ended up with a shot of two outfielders watching an unseen ball carry over the wall and me finishing a trip around the bases. No matter, my memory is stronger than that long-ago film.
That dairy was amazing in those days. Ballfields everywhere – softball and baseball – with a quarter-midget race track, a velodrome, picnic area and all sorts of other things that made it delightful, year-round. Later at Alpenrose, my son attended, then worked at, the long-running Metro Baseball School, run by Jack Dunn and Roy Love – a camp that helped thousands of young kids learn the basics of the game. Later, the Little League softball World Series set up shop at Alpenrose and found it a perfect home.
And I guess that’s why my heart hurt when I heard about the family controversy that is putting the dairy and its facilities at risk. On Wednesday of this week, a judge will decide whether to grant in injunction to family members who want to stop a possible sale of the dairy. It’s the heart of a family feud that has torn apart the Cadonau family, the owners of the business and the property it sits on.
I understand the situation but I hate it when money divides a family. Yes, that land is worth millions, but so are the memories and the future ones yet to be made at Alpenrose. I would hope that an injunction and cooling off period would provide time to find a solution that would please all concerned. Maybe even enough time for enough money to be raised to save the kids' part of it, as it stands now.
That place is an important part of Portland – in the past, the present and, hopefully, the future.
And I confess, I’d like to see a lot more boys and girls get a chance to feel what I felt on that trip around the bases, so many years ago in what has always been a very special ballpark.