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In the beginning was the game, the game was baseball and baseball was King. This was an article of faith in the little Negro community of Plainview, Ga. (pop. 222), until one Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1946 when two heretics began to preach a new doctrine. My brother Benny, age 16, and I, age 12, were worse than heretics: we were revolutionaries who master-minded the plot that overthrew the crown.
It took some overthrowing. Baseball had been there from the start, and no one could remember when, how, why, or where it came from. This included Grandpa Moses who, at 96, was the community's historian, and his memory was considered infallible, especially by the boys. He could tell stories by the hour about The War, particularly the year General Sherman and his little boys in blue, as Grandpa Moses called them, paid a visit to Plainview. But for the life of him. Grandpa Moses could not recall when the first pitch was thrown in a baseball game in Plainview. This annoyed him and anytime the question arose he would, in a very abrupt manner, say that it was before his time and the subject was dropped. Despite this one shortcoming, Grandpa Moses was one of the most avid baseball fans in the area.
Our schoolteacher, Miss Loveall, had her theory on when the game first arrived in Plainview. She claimed it went back to the early weeks of the Pleistocene period. But Grandpa Moses said she was full of beans, because he had never heard of no Pleistocene War.
The high school over at Madison, six miles away, played a game called basketball. But in order to play on the team you had to go to high school, and no one in Plainview wanted to do that, except maybe a few girls. Anyway, basketball was considered a town-folks game. For us country boys, baseball was the only game, and we played it all year round.
We played it, that is, until Benny and I learned about a mysterious sport called football. We caught some glimpses of it in the newsreels at the theater in Madison. It looked rough and glorious. Later we listened to games on the radio. Bill Stern was our favorite announcer: he could make football sound almost as exciting as a Joe Louis tight. We saw the faces of Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, Charlie Trippi and Johnny Lujack scowling from magazine covers, and our hearts turned over. Benny and I—with guilty thrills—knew we were being sacrilegious; but we just couldn't help it. Football had bewitched us. It promised more action, more excitement than baseball. We wanted to play it. Treason or no, we would play it.
On the morning of the revolution, Benny and I went to church. We whispered to the other kids that we knew about a new game called football—and we suggested that we get up a game that afternoon. It was a wicked suggestion to make—and in church at that. Everyone in Plainview knew Sunday afternoons were for playing baseball. It would be a kind of sin to play any other game. But sin has its allurements, even in church. The older folks shushed us, but after church we found we had made some converts. We were going to have a football game.
It was a beautiful cloudless afternoon. The temperature was in the 50s. The game was to be played in the pasture that we used as a baseball held, located across the road from Grandpa Moses' house. It was plenty big enough for football, unfenced, with the grass just beginning to turn brown. We always played baseball on the end near the road because the cows grazed on the opposite end, and everytime we played too near the cows Grandpa Moses claimed they got upset over getting hit by line drives and wouldn't give milk properly for several days.
Grandpa Moses' house stood about 50 yards from the road. It was a large, two-story frame house always in need of whitewashing. Here Grandpa Moses lived with most of his children, and most of their children, and their children's children. Grandpa Moses was not my real grandpa, but everyone, including the white folks, called him Grandpa out of respect.
His house served as a meeting place, and every Sunday following church services the front porch, steps and yard facing the road would be jammed with people coming by to just sit and talk, sometimes until way past sundown. The talk was good—and Grandpa Moses brewed some of the best home brew in the state.
This Sunday the crowd was there as usual. The men on one end of the porch discussing, between sips of beer, the weather, crop planning, and particularly baseball, since everyone had been hearing about some guy named Robinson who was going to be playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers the following year.