Ray Duckler: Looking for something to do this summer? Don’t get boxed in
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewksbury throws a pitch against the Florida Marlins on Aug. 2, 1993, in St. Louis. The Texas Rangers signed free-agent pitcher Tewksbury to a one-year deal Saturday, April 8, 1995, one day after deciding not to offer a contract to John Burkett. Tewksbury, 34, is another pitcher who gives the Rangers what they need a durable starter who can last into the late innings without walking many batters. (AP Photo, Leon Algea)
Preston Carpenter, 4, eats a dish of ice cream at Arnie's Place in Concord, N.H., on Monday, April 19, 2004. Ice cream prices have gone up, and may continue to rise, due to the increase in pricing of several of the treat's ingredients.(AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
About 45 years ago, a skinny kid from Salisbury drew a box with chalk on an outside wall of his grade school and threw a ball at it till the cows came home.
“I wasn’t so structured about getting better at that time,” said former big league pitcher Bob Tewksbury of Concord. “I just loved doing it. We didn’t have anything else to do back at that time.”
In today’s Your Life section of the Monitor you’ll notice a feature listing “100 Things To Do This Summer.” Compiled by staffer Jenifer VanPelt, the page serves as a simple guide for the warm months, suggestions that might not be as obvious as you’d think because of today’s push-button society.
That’s why activities like “Get ice cream from the ice cream man” and “Fly a kite” and “Read a book” and “Catch frogs” seem like strange relics from the Mesozoic era.
Catch frogs? Without an adult supervising? That sort of individuality for kids croaked a long time ago, extinct like the dinosaurs themselves.
Everything is choreographed nowadays. Youth sports are no longer done without someone holding a clipboard or blowing a whistle or barking instructions.
That need not be the only way to go.
Tewksbury, who’s 53, played organized baseball, sure, learning from great baseball minds such as Dave Anderson, his coach at Merrimack Valley High.
But Tewksbury also spent time alone, throwing at that box on the school wall, or slugging rocks from his driveway, splintering a wooden bat in the process.
“We didn’t have video games, didn’t have the internet, didn’t have organized sports that started here and went year-round,” Tewksbury said. “You had time off when school ended. You had nothing to do, so you made stuff up to do, and that’s what I made up to do at Salisbury Elementary School. That’s what I liked to do.”
Tewksbury pounded that wall, probably with strikes, and he did the same during a major league career that spanned 13 years, ending in 1998, after two seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
He became a control artist, rarely walking a batter, after battling arm injuries through his first three major league seasons.
While pitching for Manager Joe Torre and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992, Tewksbury led the National League in winning percentage, posted a 2.16 earned run average and made the all-star team.
He now has a master’s degree in sports psychology and counseling. His education and the inner strength he showed during the late 1980s, when big league managers such as Whitey Herzog and Lou Piniella doubted his ability, helped him land a job as the Major League Baseball Players Association’s new director of player development.
Tewksbury travels across the country to speak with young players, trying to instill the skills they need to build confidence and emotional maturity.
Next week he’ll be in four cities in four days. Last week he stopped in Cincinnati, where the Reds hosted the San Francisco Giants, who happen to have a hitting coach named Joe Lefebvre, formerly of Concord.
“It was fun,” Tewksbury said. “We sat around and told baseball stories.”
Lefebvre hit a home run for the Yankees on May 22, 1980, in his first major league game, and he hit another home run the next night, too.
Three years later he batted .306 for the Philadelphia Phillies and played in the World Series. A knee injury suffered while playing the outfield in Chicago’s Wrigley Field cut his career short.
Lefebvre had little time to talk about the old days last night. But, reached before the Giants hosted the New York Mets, he said enthusiastically, “Those were great days around Concord. A lot of fun.”
He groomed his skills on diamonds such as Rollins Park and Memorial Field. Back then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, neighborhood kids hopped on their bikes, slid their baseball gloves on their handlebars and pedaled to local fields.
They chose up sides, made their own rules and imitated the batting stances of their favorite players. The one left-handed hitter in the bunch was nicknamed, naturally, Lefty.
That scenario is rare these days, replaced by strictly supervised leagues with no room for experimentation or dreaming.
“You kind of get swept up in all that,” Tewksbury said. “Within reason I think it’s fine, but some kids play on two travel teams where they specialize at the age of 12. I think that’s crazy.”
So this summer, branch out on your own. Like it says on the Your Life page, play in the sprinkler, have a lemonade stand or make a wish on a dandelion.
Or draw a box on a wall with a piece of chalk and pitch till the cows come home.
Maybe you’ll be an all-star some day.