Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Neills return to the baseball field, new rules, nicknames

We are back in the baseball business, after about twenty years. Since Adam started in Little League at about six or seven, and played all the way through college, Betsy and I spent about 16 springs and summers on hard bleacher seats, eating cold hot dogs for suppers, and/or pizzas for late desserts.

Now oldest Grandboy Sir has begun that cycle again, and the Coach has already reproached me gently for not knowing the new rules, while yelling orders loudly that would lead a youngster to follow my old rules, some of which are no longer germane.

Plus, I have to learn a whole new set of names. These kids, while the Coaches are pitching three soft strikes to each batter before placing the ball on the T, if needed, have to wear a batting helmet that has a whole lot more bars on it than the football helmets they gave us linemen at Ole Miss. (Seems like then, if newer equipment showed up, it always went to the glory hog backs first; but that may be sour grapes.)
At any rate, the kids are certainly well protected, even if they can’t see well to hit and run, or be identified to yell encouragement to.

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But that’s okay. When I was coaching myownself a kid in a nearby town died from getting hit in the head by a pitched ball, and no one wants that to happen.

Anyhoo, B.C. gave me a list of the team names, so that I could root for the individuals as they came to the plate, or made a good play in the field. As I read the list, I was stuck by the difference two generations have made in names.

These kids were: Lane, Phavion, Spencer, Ethan, Autumn, Harris, Walker, Ayden, Sean (mine), Tyler, Doriana, Brayden and Nathan. Obviously, another generational difference is that we didn’t have girls playing in those days, more’s the pity.

I hunted up my own old (and getting older!) high school team picture, and listed those boys’ names, just for comparison: there were three of us Bobs, two each John, Jim, Tommy and George, then Dave, Hilton, Kenny and Garon, the only unusual moniker, although he was usually called “Sugar Cane” by his buddies. I never considered before that cheering for a player in my youth was so much easier: learn five names, and you’d covered the whole starting line-up!

Back then the trend was to name the oldest son after his daddy, which meant that many of us grew up feeling that we weren’t really our own identities while young: Big Robert & Little Robert, Big Dave & Little Dave, Big Jim & Little Jim, Big George & Little George.

It hurt Big Robert’s feelings when Betsy & I named our son Adam, although they later became best friends, but I wasn’t going to have my boy go through the Big & Little syndrome, not if I could help it.
A few years later, playing football at Ole Miss, the trend had gone almost entirely to nicknames, partly because of Coach Wobble Davidson.

He christened us as freshmen with names like: Hoss, Bootsey, Chico, Chuck, Mr. Clean, Foggy, Catfish, Possum, Mule, Duck, Bookie, Woody, Snake, Squirrel, Bull, Blinky, Bo, Buck, Mama (NOT a girl!!), Flash – those were all Rebel teammates, five of whom were All-Americans!  (As were Stan, Kenny, Whaley, Billy Ray and Johnny!)

That nickname trend was still going strong a generation later, when son Adam (“Heater”) played on a high school state championship team: Bubba, Boom-Boom, D-Train, Alfie, Jep, Hoss, Starman, Wheels, Heart Murmur – all were champs, along with Vince, Max, Les, and the others.

Of course, if one goes back far enough, we’ll find names like Shem, Ham, and Japeth in our family trees, or maybe even a Jehosophat or a Miphibosheth.

One of my favorite books is Clair (that’s a boy’s name) Huffaker’s The Cowboy and the Cossack, in which the cowboy boss and hero Shad (Shadrack) declares to the punchers making fun of the Russian names, “We ain’t makin’ fun of anybody’s name…. A name ain’t never nothin’, good or bad, until the person behind that name makes it so. Now it’s time to get some sleep!”

I applaud the current trend to make names simply different: Sean and Leiton work fine as Grandboy names, especially for their Grunk and Doots.    

“Okay, Tyler, you da man!  Eye on the ball, and give ‘er a rip!” Still got it!