We’re kids once and only for awhile
So follow your dreams, and do it with style.
The worst part about being a kid is growing up. Few of our childhood dreams make it past grade school. They often are pooh-poohed by parents and teachers and eventually abandoned to cope with the harsh realities of adult life.
Syd Mead is a futurist designer, best known for his work on science fiction films such as Blade Runner, Aliens and Tron. He says, “I can think of no greater gift to oneself than to retain and add the wonder of childhood to the gathering of the adult experience.”
In writing The Bilko Athletic Club, a book about Steve Bilko and the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, I strived to regain the wonder of childhood I lost from 40 years of guerilla warfare in the corporate jungle.
Fortunately, my mother saved a large collection of baseball cards, yearbooks, scrapbooks and odds and ends like a note written in 1955 when I was nine years old. “It’s nice to be a baseball fan,” I scribbled. “If you want to know some baseball players names, here they are….”
The names of some of the biggest stars of the ‘50s are listed: Ray Boone, Duke Snider, Eddie Mathews, Carl Furillo, Mickey Mantle and Hank Sauer. And, then, obviously dreaming, I added Davy Crockett, Gaylon White and Don White.
In 1955, Davy Crockett was big stuff. He was “King of the Wild Frontier,” the name of a Walt Disney movie starring actor Fess Parker as Davy. I wore a coonskin cap when I wasn’t wearing my L.A. Angels baseball cap.
In 1953, Don scored 48 points for his basketball team, the White Sidewalls. That same year, 6-foot-9 Clarence “Bevo” Francis, averaged a record 48.3 points a game to put tiny Rio Grande College on the map. The newspaper in our hometown of Santa Paula, California, reported: “Although somewhat shorter than Bevo Francis, Donnie White scored 48 points in an eighth grade basketball game Saturday, giving him a total of 64 points for the season so far and the scoring lead in the league.”
In my eyes, Don was a star, destined for greatness in basketball and baseball. He had quick hands, ran fast, and threw hard. He consistently hit balls onto the roof of a building near the field where we played pick-up games. When we went to Angel games at Wrigley Field in L.A., Don out-hustled other kids for baseballs fouled into the stands. He supplied all the baseballs we needed at home.
Dad wanted Don to focus on basketball so he didn’t play high school baseball. He was a backup guard on the 1957 El Monte High School basketball team that won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) central championship. He went on to put up some decent numbers as a point guard at LIFE Bible College in L.A. But I always wondered what Don would’ve done on the baseball diamond. In my mind, he could’ve traded his 1946 Chevy Fleetline for a Cadillac because home run hitters in the Fifties were driving Caddies.
“The very best era of baseball is when you were a kid,” says Bill Swank, a baseball historian.
It’s the best because there’s still that sense of wonder of what could be. As a new year begins, my hope for all kids, especially my six grandchildren (Emily, Andrew, Mary Scout, Megan, Max and Xander), is that they never lose the sense of wonder that dreams are all about.
The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ.
The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:
- Rowman & Littlefield
- Sales Spider
- Tower books
- Powell’s Books
- Rakuten.com Shopping
- BetterWorld Books
- The Book Depository
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