Calumet Roots

Baseball was the name of the game in East Chicago

2013-10-06T00:00:00Z Baseball was the name of the game in East ChicagoBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

About this time every year, we would brace ourselves for a feed for having been the best baseball team in the Kiwanis League. That usually meant either a dinner or luncheon at the First Baptist Church of Indiana Harbor, which had the best kitchen in town.

The Kiwanis League began in the mid-1920s because of the powerful interest of Kiwanis members in baseball. As a result, teams sprouted up that were loosely connected to local schools.

For example, I played on the Sox, which centered on Riley School, which, incidentally, I never attended. Our lead pitcher was Tommy Spisik, who was a good hitter, played a position other than pitcher until it was time for a big game. I first played shortstop and then third base.

The importance of the Kiwanis League was that it was a feeder system to E.C. Washington High School. It was a rare year when Washington did not win the conference championship.

In those days of the late 1930s, we played our baseball games across the street from what is now Block Stadium. Our home games were unique in several ways.

First, the field tilted upward, so that the left fielder was actually looking down at the play. Secondly, a foul ball either went into the empty lot across from the baseball field or hit the street and trailed off a long way. Third, right field was a short field.

Team uniforms were closely identified with the team. For example, a striped uniform specified the Giants, a team associated with Washington Junior High School.

The African-American team was called the Pirates. They were renowned for their speed, but baseball is a game of many nuances, so that did not give the Pirates a special advantage.

In those days, there were no school buses. We all had to get to games the best way we could. That was  slight difficult when playing a team from the west side of the city.

It was difficult because, at that time, access to the swimming pool was by sex. There were girls’ days and boys’ days. We timed our trips to the west side according to what we had to wear, since we usually wore our bathing suits under our clothes. That is, we tried to make Boys’ Day coincide with a baseball game.

Another part of our routine was that we showed up at our team's home school (Riley, in my case) for the first chunk of the morning, amusing ourselves with a variety of games, the most popular of which was ping pong. We could also play basketball or just about anything else.

After we had exhausted ourselves, we went home for lunch and then returned for baseball, totally refreshed. If we bounced onto the playing field or court as if it were nothing special, and if that situation made us look confident and even cocky, it didn’t seem to affect our play. We ruled the roost.

I never played on a losing team in any sport until my junior year in high school. That was the year my father had a serious heart attack and had to take a lighter job at the mill. The lighter job brought with it reduced pay and that, in turn, required that I drop all sports and go to work.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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