When I was growing up in the late 1940s, people in small towns in Texas and other parts of the South didn't have quite as many diversions as they do today. There were not as many TV sets; the movie theaters changed their films only on occasion; and not everybody and his teen-ager had a car. People were obviously looking for other ways to have fun.
That's about the only reason I can think of for anyone to play donkey baseball—a little-known addendum to the Great American Pastime that had its heyday about the time I was graduating from high school.
For the uninitiated, donkey baseball is baseball played while riding donkeys—the game we all know with a few additional rules. You could get off your donkey to field a ground ball or to catch a fly, but you had to bat, the pitcher had to pitch and the catcher had to catch while astride the critters.
Now there may be people—such as little girls in black patent-leather shoes and frilly dresses who haven't got time for such things, or misers who haven't finished counting their money, or preachers with the sins of the world to consider—who don't like baseball. There may be an embittered third baseman somewhere who failed his tryout with the Cardinals and never wants to hear the game mentioned again; or there may be a baseball Scrooge who could put Ebenezer to shame.
But those attitudes are nothing but the last faint flickering glimmer of a long-dead star to the way a donkey feels about the game.
I can tell you flat-out that donkeys don't like baseball. They don't like to listen to it on the radio; they don't like to watch it; and, above all, they don't like to play it. A donkey's reaction to a baseball coming his way is "When is the next bus leaving town?" And he'll try to depart at that instant to be at the station early.
But given the level of baseball we used to play in Bay City, Texas, we had to do something to draw a crowd to the ball field. So we made donkey baseball an annual affair, played on the Fourth of July, with the police battling the fire department. The only problem with this game was that neither the police department nor the fire department was heavily populated with athletes. Some of the participants, as a matter of fact, were getting a little long in the tooth and had the same attitude toward baseball that the donkeys did. Consequently, both teams recruited athletes from the high school. This involved a good deal of skulduggery, since the rules said that all players had to be members in good standing of their respective organizations.
I was on the high school baseball team and I also rodeoed, and while I wasn't particularly good at either sport, the combination was a natural for donkey baseball, automatically making me a popular draft choice.
In 1952, the fire chief found me hanging around the town square. He came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Son, you like chicken-fried steak, don't you?"
Well, I admitted I did, though it was an unnecessary question because there wasn't a high school boy in Texas who didn't like chicken-fried steak.