Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BINGHAM SPRING FEVER by CREEDON

SPRING FEVER
By John J. Creedon
Spring in the air and with the first signs of spring the sap begins to flow.  To the trees it flows up bringing new life to the winter withered branches but to the poor human, it seems to glow the other way making him lackadaisical and just plain lazy.
            In my boyhood days, spring used to mean more than a date on the calendar.  It was a time to get out from under the heavy winter clothes and rediscover the many wonderful things that mean so much to a boy.  With the snow gone from the lower slopes of the mountains, it was time to search for the first spring flowers.  The tiny violets that seemed the first to try the fresh spring air and the tender buttercups and stars with their beautiful yellow color.  We would race to see who could gather the most flowers.
            As the ground began to dry a bit more, it was time for marbles.  I rarely see any boy plaing marbles these day, but with so much pavement and hardtop, it is difficult to find the right terrain for this game.  There was that certain time when the ground was just right, not too dry, with enough moisture left in the ground to make it easy to draw a ring or dig the holes for potsi.
            My favorite game was potsi.  We would dig nine shallow holes, in rows of three each. The center hole was the potsi, where each player put his “daks”.  A line some ten feet or so back of the holes would be where you stood to make your lag for the potsi hole.  If you landed in the center hole you took all the “daks”.  If you landed in one of the corner holes you had to put another dak in the potsi hole, if you landed in the middle outside holes you got to take out a dak. The taw you lagged with was usually a steely.
            Other games we played were fatsi and rings.  Fatsi was played with a ring shaped like a football while rings were played with a circle of varying sizes.  The marbles we used were agatcs, glassics, onyx and flints.  The rarest marble was a flint, especially if it had a few half moons in it. If you were lucky enough to have one of these for a taw, you were the envy of the gang.  We kept our marbles in a small salt sack.  At the end of the day we would count our marbles to see how we fared during the day.
            Another favorite game with the arrival of spring was spinning tops.  We would go to the butcher shops to get the heavy string that hams and bacon came wrapped in for our top strings. Some of the kids would file the peg of their tops to a sharp point so they could split the other tops when trying to hit them out of the ring.  The more scars your top carried, the more valuable it became.  It took a lot of practice to be proficient at spinning a top and putting the other tops out of the ring.
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            Mumble-peg was another spring sport, for the ground had to have just the right amount of dampness for a knife to stick good in the ground.  I have forgotten most of the terms we used for the different positions the knife would be thrown from, but the knife would be thrown from both hand, the fingers of each hand and all parts of the body, such as shave the scalp, flipping the knife from the top of your head and making it stick upright in the ground.
            What a beating the knees of our pants and the toes of our shoes took, and the dampness would sink right in and chap our knees as well.  You could always tell a confirmed marble or mumble-peg player by the damp patch on his knees and the chapped knuckles and hands, but boy, what fun it was!
            Another sure sign of spring in Bingham was the increased tempo in the flow of the water and the noise of the creek that ran under and back of the houses in the Canyon.  After running somewhat subdued during the winter, the spring runoff swelled the narrow creek to near flood stage and in so doing picked up much of the debris thrown in the creek and deposited on the sides.  What a crescendo of sound the tin cans, bottles and other rubbish made as they were banged from one side to the other.  To the uninitiated, it was a frightening and strange sound, and after all some strange objects wended their way down the canyon.
            And then the washing of the streets by the city employees.  They would use the fire hose and the accumulated mud would be washed away.  This usually meant that the windows would have to be cleaned for the mud hit high and wide.



BATTER UP!
By John J. Creedon
            With the baseball season opening this week in Washington, it brings to mind other baseball seasons and the players who left their mark in the records of baseball in Bingham Canyon.
            As far back as I can remember, Bingham was a red hot baseball town.  We had a large group of fans who supported their favorite team in the bit leagues, the Coast league and the local team.  Whether it was the town team or one of the many teams from the mines in the vicinity.  We
lacked a decent ball park in the early days, because there was no room for one.  The first ball ground I can remember, other than the ones the kids played on, was near the mouth of Dry Fork Gulch.  It wasn’t much of a park, but it was the best we had to offer.  The Rio Grande Railroad and the Bingham Creek ran parallel to left field, the wagon road, or highway, meandered through center field and the right fielder was stationed on a slope with a power line tower at his side. There was no grass on the field and the rocks were everywhere.  With all the handicaps, we often saw a good ball game and they were well attended.  Most of the fans came on foot, but a few of the fortunate ones had their buggies there or a saddle horse.  The fans sat on rocks or the railroad ties or just stood up to cheer their favorites.
            Some of those early ball players that I recall was Oley Jensen and Ed Shaw, who were plenty fair pitchers in their day.  Art Sorensen played a classy first base and Joe Delaney was sort of a handyman–he used to play about any position.  There were scores of others, but the passage of time had dimmed them from memory at this time.
            During the twenties the mining companies became interested in providing sports and recreation for their employees and when the Utah Copper Co. built the first houses in Copperton, a modern ball park was laid out and for the first time we had a smooth ball field with grandstand and grass and trees and a concession stand where you could get that old standby, hot dogs.
            Most of the superintendents of the mines were sports fans and before long an intense rivalry was built up between the Utah Copper, Apex and Arthur and Magna.  These men were on the constant lookout for baseball material and would use any method in obtaining a good player. They had a freehand with their management and often created jobs for the star players, so they wouldn’t have to work too hard and interfere with their playing ability.
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            On days of the game these players would knock off work about 10 a.m. and the mines would have a three o’clock day and everyone would hit for the ball park.  When one of the Bingham teams played in Magna, the cow  trail they called the Magna-Bingham highway would be a cloud of dust for hours with a stream of cars not unlike shift time today.
            Rivalry was keen and it was not unusual for some of the fans to bet a good part of their paycheck on the outcome of some important game.  The cheering sections were large and loud and players with rabbit ears were at the mercy of the wolves.  The umpires  really took it.
            One of the most important ingredients in a ball player, fan or umpire is color, and we certainly had our share of color in all these classes.
            Remember Red Barber?  What a dressing down he would get at every game, but he took it and came back for more, year after year.  Our own Darrell Kidd was a fine umpire and his slim figure and calm manner was deceiving to some of the visiting ball players at times.  I can still see some big six-footer bristling up to Darrell like he was going to throw him out of the park, and Darrell’s back would stiffen and he soon let the hothead know who was boss.
            Al Ablett was another local man with color, both a manager and umpire.  No one could out talk him or argue him out of a decision and he went about his work with a hustle that endeared him to the fans.  Yes, these umpires had color, but most of all they knew the “Book”. They were students of the grand old game of baseball and when they made a decision, they had the rule to back them up.  They were not infallible and they missed a few.  I know myself, I often questioned their judgment and their eyesight, but they contributed much to the game.
            More baseball next week.

SOME OF OUR COLORFUL BALLPLAYERS
By John J. Creedon
            With the modern ball park and the forming of a Copper League, the next thing was to get ball players to make up the teams.
            The mining companies began searching for ball players and soon an influx of these men began to pour into our community.  They came from near and far.  Some of them had played professional base ball and were near the end of the trail, as baseball players go.  Others were semi pro players and others just out of college and looking for a place to settle.  Some few were real boomers and were just looking for a soft job and a chance to pick up a few sheckles.
            Many of these players came to play ball and stayed on and became permanent residents and good citizens.  Some of them advanced to top positions in the company they worked for and others became business men in the community.  They married local girls and raised families and definitely became part of Bingham.
            There was Les Sumnicht and Bailey Santistevan from Colorado Aggies who formed one of the classiest keystone sack combinations seen around here.  Bailey was a slick fielder and a place hitter.  Les was a fine fielder and could clout the long ball.  He was at home in the outfield and could clout the long ball.  He was at home in the outfield as well.  Les stayed on long after his active ball career and is a foreman at Kennecott.  Bailey took over the baseball and football coaching duties at Bingham High School and for many years we had a championship baseball team in the high school circuit.  Four times his football teams took top honors in high school competition.  His legion baseball teams became a legend in Bingham.  He was a great teacher of the fundamentals of the game he taught and may of his players went on to make their names in college.
            Spud Morley came from Idaho to play ball and what a ball player he was.  Many a base runner who thought he had a single was surprised to find the ball in the first baseman’s mitt an eyelash before his foot hit the bag.  Spud played a shallow right field and fired the ball like a bullet after scooping up a hot grounder.  He got his share of base hits too.
            Red Muir was a favorite catcher.  He had a bullet arm on that throw to second and third baseman would have liked to wear a goalie’s armor if permitted.  Those line drives down the third base line made life miserable for the third sacker.  Red was a fighter all the way.
            Who can forget Austin Boberg pitching or catching?  Here was a man with one leg competing on a level with the best, but Bo had so much natural ability and plain guts that he made up for his handicap.  He had a runner when he was batting, but most of his hits were long enough that he could have reached base most of the time himself.  One of the longest hits I can remember was one Bo put over the water tank in right field.
            Bill McIvor had everything a ball player needed.  He had a great pitching arm.  He could play first base with the best of them and he was a consistent line drive hitter.  I remember one year that Mac pitched Gemmell Club to the championship almost by himself by winning thirteen games. What a thrill it was to see Mac whip that left arm of his around, give a grunt and let fire.  Each pitch saw his shirt come out a little farther from his belt until it was clear out.  Then Mac would stop and stuff it back in, wipe his brow and bear down again.  He was a great competitor and had that important ingredient, color.
            Another great pitcher was Jerry Dunn, Jerry followed the training rules of Grover Cleveland Alexander of the big leagues.  In other words he trained not on tea and crumpets, but it did not seem to affect his pitching.  He was one of those rear back, grunt and throw artists and he won many a game for his team.
            A row of trees lined the ball park just outside the fences and the leaves were kept trimmed from these trees by the balls hit through them by Doty Bush and Pete Hepting.  Neither of these men were giants, but they could hit the long ball and they did it with a regularity that was tough on the opposing pitchers.
            One of the most thrilling sights at a game was to watch Al Kastelic fade back in center field and pull down what looked like a certain base hit.  I never saw Tris Speaker play ball, but from the reports of his fielding, Al gave up a sample of what it was like.
            Two other outfielders with lots of color was Toots Bankhead and Bill Rumsey.  They could play ball and they could clown as well.  One of the more quiet and serious players was Skinny Moore, a sure fielder and place hitter deluxe.

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TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME
By John J. Creedon
            Most of the players mentioned in last weeks article were with the Utah Copper or Gemmell Club team, but there were many other fine ball players with the Apex and later, the U.S. Mine.
            There was Skinny Miller and Boob Burrows who pitched for Apex.  Wally Walbeck was a fine shortstop.  He resembled the great Hans Wagner, the greatest shortstop of them all, with his bow legs and unique crouch.  One of the finest athletes to appear in Bingham was Ken Anderson of Apex.  Ken was versatile—he could throw with either hand and was a switch hitter.  Ken was a great competitor and gave 100% of himself in every game. 
            With the influx of players from the outside, we had a few of our own players that gave a creditable account of themselves and stood eye to eye with the professionals.  The teaching of Bailey Santistevan began to show results and many of the high school players made the local teams.
            When he had the mind to pitch, Gene Fish was a hard man to beat and he pitched many a fine game for the Copper.  Gene was inclined to take it easy most of the time, but I believe if he had the competitive spirit of some of the players of less ability he could have advanced to a higher rank in organized baseball. 
            Billy Johnson played shortstop with the best of them and he never let up.  He was graceful and came up with many a ball that looked like a sure hit.  Another fine infielder from the local ranks was Rodney Adams, who played for U.S. Adolph Chiara gave a good account of himself as a regular on the Apez team.  Jack Smith played a lot on first base for the Copper.  He was a little on the hefty side but fielded his position well and could hit the long ball.
            The visiting teams did not lack in good players or color either.  Who can forget the antics of Occie Evans when he got on base.  He worried the catcher, the pitcher and the outfielders. They never knew what to expect from him on the base paths.  At the plate with runners on base he would fake a bunt and then tap the ball over the infielders head.  Occie was a smart ball player and a delight to watch.
            Lob Collins from Provo was one of the best bunters and place hitters to visit our park. With a man on third, he was a constant threat to score him.  Lob was a fiery competitor too—he asked no quarter and he gave none.  Lefty Cole, southpaw pitcher and the backbone of the Provo pitching staff pitched many a brilliant game in old Copperton Park.
            Pet Dow, who played for Magna, would come up with some fantastic catches in center field and how he could clout that apple.
            With the breakup of the old Copper League, the Industrial League came into existence and we saw many new faces.  Walker Bank had a fine team and most of their players later played for the Royal Bakers.  Feet Tedesco used to play third base for them and how the wolves used to get on him.  For some reason he couldn’t stand to be called, “Bananas”.  The madder he got the louder the fans would yell.
            For my All Star rooting section, I would single out three died-in-the wool baseball fans. First there was Bill Sumnicht, brother of Les Sumnicht.  He had a fog horn voice and he never missed a ball game.  He spared no one, not even Les, when he felt he needed a prod or two.  Bill knew the game as well as anyone and he kept the umpires on their toes too.
            Peggy Johanson was the ace rooter for Apex and he could be heard all over the ball park when he let loose with his booming voice.  He was one to back up his team with a five spot as well.  He was a loyal supporter for his team.
            For the third member, I go to the fair sex and pick U.S. Mines Mrs. Frank Hoine, wife of Superintendent Frank Hoine, a great fan in his own right.  Mrs. Hoine had a strong voice and she could ball out a player or umpire to perfection, without becoming too profane or un lady-like.
            Alas, the likes of these are gone and the game has suffered greatly in losing the color these individuals gave to the game.  I must mention one more fan—Fay Mitchell.  Fay never missed a game and it was the only time he would leave the city.  He felt he must be on hand to turn the valves in the city water system in case of fire.  Fay would always stand at the games and chew on his ever present cigar.
            This was baseball in Bingham when everyone went to the ball game.

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