When we moved to Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 1982, Larry Jr. was 11 years old and loved to play baseball. He made all-start teams in the U.S. and was disappointed that baseball wasn't played in Abidjan. A group of guys played softball each Saturday at a local soccer field, so we started playing with them. My softball skills had gone down over the years but I still enjoyed the competition.
The group would let younger players join in the games and let them hit and make believe the youngsters actually got hits and throw the ball over the heads of the first baseman, 2nd base, etc and have the kids run the bases. That applied to all the children except for Larry Jr, who they treated like an adult player. He wasn't that big at that time and never got a hit for 2 years but he went out there every Saturday and played the game. He had a great arm for his age and would throw out players and they soon learned to not try and take an extra base on him.
Fast forward to 1985 and Larry Jr. had grown about 10 inches and put on some weight and started getting some hits in the pickup games. They could no longer bring the outfielders in to cut off his hits and had to play him straight up. He also had developed into a pretty good outfielder and could run down fly balls and hits to his part of the field.
When the 1986 W.A.I.S.T tournament was held the team invited him to play with them. It was always difficult to field a team and then find players willing to pay the airfare to Dakar from Abidjan so that helped him a little. I was on a TDY in Bamako, Mali and flew over to Dakar to watch the action and Gerry flew up with Jr. from Abidjan so we made it a little vacation for us.
|Larry Jr & Tommy Weathersby|
|Larry Jr at bat & Cliff running along sideline to coach 3rd base|
|Larry Jr in 1998|
|Larry Jr cutting off Cliff for fly ball|
|Handshakes after winning game|
|Larry Jr on way to 2nd & Tommy Weathersby|
Larry Jr. really came into this own in this tournament and batted well over 600, made some great fielding plays and ran the bases like a deer. He played very well and many players of the other teams where asking who this "ringer" was and where did he come from. Jr. actually got a couple votes for MVP in the tournament and Abidjan won every game and the championship. We were very proud parents and were happy to see him play so well after all those years of struggling to get on base.
Larry Jr. wound up being a very good softball player who grew to 6ft 3inches and put on some pounds to fill out his old bones. He had a natural softball swing and lead all his teams in home runs and triples when he came back to the U.S. and played on many different teams.
Well, I bet you didn't expect the above in my blog, but I wanted to tell the story and acknowledge him hanging in there during those difficult early years in Abidjan.
The memories came back to me today as we sit here in Tucson in 100 degrees and remembering playing softball in temps like that in Abidjan with the high humidity there. After about 2 inning of ball our shirts, shorts, socks and shoes were soaking wet and 2 liters of water had already been downed by each of us. We played from 1-4pm every Saturday and had a great time.