MY OLD BASEBALL by thad mumau

I have this old baseball. It has turned a yellowish color despite being stored in a plastic bag, but you can still make out the names even though they were signed more than 60 years ago.

The autographs of Wynn Hawkins and Danny Osinski stand out for me. Partly because both pitchers made it to the major leagues, but also because they “adopted” a small boy who idolized them.

Jim Pokel was the most popular local autograph back then, and my daddy and other men who knew baseball talked a lot about an infielder named Donnie Montgomery.

Those names and others scrawled on my treasured ball were listed on the roster of the Fayetteville Highlanders. I was nine years old when the 1956 Carolina League season began.

My daddy worked at a tire store, and one of the co-owners had purchased two season tickets to support the team. But he didn’t care much for baseball, and knowing that Dad loved it, he gave the tickets to him.

Dad and I attended every regular-season game at Pittman Stadium, always staying until the last out was recorded. I heard people say how the stadium was rickety and in need of major repairs, but I thought it was heaven.

Hawkins and Osinski paid me a lot of attention. My daddy and I sat behind the Fayetteville dugout, which was between home plate and first base. The Highlanders’ bullpen was a little way down the right field line.

I became a frequent visitor to the bullpen, standing by the fence and talking to the two pitchers when they were not on the mound. Hawkins and Osinski answered my endless questions, and they would slip me a baseball every now and then.

I think both enjoyed the fact that I was in love with the game they played for a living. Osinski and Hawkins were like big brothers. Both were outstanding pitchers, and so was Larry Dressen, who led the Highlanders in wins. All three were right-handers.

Fayetteville finished in fourth place during the regular season, then knocked off High Point and Danville in the playoffs to win the Carolina League championship.

I was thrilled for my heroes, except for the fact that I missed the last two home victories as the Highlanders won the title in the middle of September. I had my tonsils taken out and was in the hospital for two days.

When Hawkins and Osinski saw my daddy at the last game without me, they asked where I was. Dad told them, and the pitchers got a ball signed by everyone on the Fayetteville team. They brought it to me in the hospital, and I cried.

As it turned out, that was the final game ever played at Pittman Stadium and the final game for the Highlanders. As a small boy, I didn’t know anything about baseball being a business and could not believe there would not be a team in Fayetteville the year after my beloved Highlanders had won it all.

I have wonderful memories of the summer of ’56. I will never forget Wynn Hawkins and Danny Osinski and how kind they were to me. The joy of those nights at the ball park still lingers.

My old yellowish baseball would not get any attention on eBay.  But then, I would never put it on the market anyway. No one has enough money to buy it.

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