When I was in the sixth grade, my mom started working as a teacher’s aide at Lincoln Elementary school in Tulare.
The school was located in a residential community behind the high school on the south side of town.
To be blunt, it was kind of a slum.
The houses were small and old. The demographic was African-American and Hispanic. While their homes were nothing to brag about, the families were intact and the parents worked incredibly hard and loved their children.
My mother befriended many of these families and it gave me a whole new set of friends.
Sadly, these families could not afford to add any extras to their financial obligations and, while their children wanted to play Little League baseball, they just couldn’t manage it.
So two of the teachers my mom helped in the classroom decided to find a way to register several boys and get them on teams in Little League.
I was in college by then and mom asked if I would help out. I was happy to do so.
When Wayne and Tim took the boys to register, they assumed they would be put on several different teams. But bigotry reared its ugly head.
Our boys looked like ragamuffins in tattered clothes and had little or no equipment (gloves and such). The leaders of Little League would not sign the boys up for any teams, making up flimsy excuses about uniforms, equipment and proper clothes.
Wayne and Tim made a fuss and the powers that be relented with the caveat that they could play but would have to be on their own team. They wouldn’t be integrated onto other teams.
The only way the boys could play meant Wayne and Tim and I had to be their coaches. We would have to get matching T-shirts and gloves and bats and hats so that they looked like a legitimate team.
We managed to pull it all together and formed our little squad of African-American and Hispanic kids.
They practiced every day that we didn’t have a game. We had two amazing boys who could pitch like crazy. Robert was our Hispanic right-handed pitcher and Lynn was our left-handed African-American pitcher.
Both of these 10-year-old boys could throw fast and straight. A kid named Abel Flores was our catcher. Somehow, all of the boys could hit the ball hard.
Robert and Lynn usually struck out virtually everyone they faced. Our team won the first game by over 20 runs.
Most of our scores were 16–0 or worse in our favor. We won 14 games in a row in a 15-game season.
Unfortunately, we lost our last game.
We were ahead 24-0 when we decided to be nice and pulled Robert from the game in the bottom of the sixth (and final) inning. Lynn wasn’t going to pitch either. No matter who we put on the mound, they just couldn’t throw strikes.
The other coach told his players to never swing at anything. We wound up walking in 25 runs and lost.
The boys were crushed. But we made sure they knew they were still the champions at 14-1 and all won trophies. We had a big celebration at my house with a barbecue and lots of games. It remains one of my fondest memories.
Interestingly, their accomplishments were noticed by the Little League officials and coaches of the major league teams. All of our boys were drafted the next year.
While no longer teammates they still made a huge impact on Little League.
Lynn and Robert were All-Stars and league MVPs. Both went on to be the best pitchers on their high school baseball teams. I think Robert and Lynn were given college scholarships. I lost track after that.
It is sad that there was bigotry and racism against 10-year-old boys in the early 1970s, but their lack of anger and the heart to play overcame that prejudice. Their talent became the way they were judged, not their skin color or economic situation.
I hope and pray they are all doing well today.