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Sports prove difficult without instructions

I never was much of a sports fan. At Garfield Elementary in good old Warren in the early 1940s, we never played either football or basketball. I suppose that, since our playground was all gravel, football was out of the question. And we never had a basketball hoop. I suppose, due to wartime shortages, Garfield wasn’t able to secure one.

Although I enjoy all the wonderful spirit of, say, a local high school football game, I’ve got to confess that I never got to understand the fine points of the game.

Early on, when I was in grade school watching a high school football game, I thought that the men who wore black and white-striped shirts and kept blowing their whistles were the coaches. After all, they were always telling the players what to do. And, every once in a while, one of them would take out a silver pistol and fire it into the ground. When they did this, all the players would stop doing what they were doing, and either begin doing something else or quit entirely. Wouldn’t you?

As far as knowing the various positions and duties of the players, even to this day, the only ones I’m really sure of are the center and the quarterback. Nowadays, when I’m invited to someone’s home to watch a hotly contested NFL game, I usually embarrass myself by hollering at the wrong time.

Playing football with other kids made more sense. All I had to do when the other guys got their turn was to tackle the guy carrying the ball. That was fun! When it was our turn, all I had to do was try to keep the other guys from tackling our guy with the ball. Simple enough. When it came to choosing sides, I was always the last one chosen. I guess they were saving the best for last.

When I was 11 years old, Dad took me to Johnny and Pete Finta’s electronic shop to watch an Indians’ baseball game on their huge 9-inch television set. Tris Speaker would lazily narrate the game — just describing what was necessary. He must have thought that, since you could see it, there was no reason to say anything extra. Although he really knew his stuff, I learned very little from watching those TV games.

My own experience with baseball (actually softball) started in the fourth grade at Garfield. Since I didn’t know what position I should take, I chose one right behind the pitcher. The duties there, I thought, were to chase the ball that the pitcher missed when the catcher threw the ball back to him. Teachers standing on the sidelines would chuckle at what I was doing and would even cheer me on.

Only after my friend Edmund told me what I was doing wrong, did I finally get a position in the outfield. There, if a nicely hit ball would come my way, I would get out of its way, wait for it to hit the ground, scoop it up and throw it somewhere in the vicinity of the guys standing on the bases. This elicited a lot of hooting from the guys in the infield. I must have done something right.

Before the seventh grade, I don’t think I had ever even seen a basketball. So, when we were to play basketball in seventh grade gym class — either as shirts or skins — I didn’t have much of an idea at all of what I was to do. Finally, I decided that my job was to avoid stepping on the black-painted boundary line. Even to this day, whenever I visit a doings at a school in their gym, I carefully avoid walking on that black line.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday .com.

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