From my early teens until now, a major portion of my life has been consumed by sports. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Until I was 11, I couldn’t have named even a handful of professional sports teams and quite frankly wasn’t interested. Not even a little bit. In fact, not at all.
I was more occupied with playing army with my friends, pretending to be superheroes, riding bicycles and getting into a little mischief. As an adult I have turned being non-athletic into an art form; in the early stages of my life it was more of a birthright.
For every road we take there is a turning point. Mine is burned into my ever-aging memory.
From the last month of the fourth grade through my high school graduation — which the validity of such is still disputed by some, including more than a couple teachers — I lived in Louisville, Miss., which is the place I consider “where I’m from.” (We in the South know that’s much different than “where I stay.”)
My father, who knew less about sports than just about any grown man I’ve ever met, decided to head to an auto parts store on the afternoon of Oct. 11, 1969, to pick up an item or two he needed. He asked me to go along, so I went. It was a decision that truly changed the entire direction of my life.
While my father was trying to explain to the man at the auto parts place just what he wanted, I sat on a stool and somewhat mindlessly watched what was on the black and white TV they had sitting on the counter, which was a rarity itself in the late ‘60s.
It happened to be the first game of the 1969 World Series. I didn’t know it at the time, and didn’t care. I couldn’t have told you who was winning or any of the players’ names. I did happen to remember it was the Baltimore Orioles playing the New York Mets.
After about 30 minutes, we went home. That seems harmless enough. No life-changing stuff there for sure.
The next day, which was a Sunday afternoon, my father was clicking through the TV channels — which was itself an epic event. He could get in front of the TV, adjusting the set, for what seemed like hours. He was a big man at 6-foot-4 and well over 230 pounds. When he decided to change the channels or adjust the set, it became a total eclipse of anybody else’s ability to watch anything other than his backside.
That being said, he happened to switch it to the channel the second game of the World Series was on. (Which wasn’t that big of a mathematic improbability since we only had four channels — if you counted PBS).
He turned to me and asked “would you like to watch this,” having taken note that I had been glancing at it the day before. And here is what I replied: “No, it’s a re-run. I saw that yesterday.” To say I had zero sports knowledge at that juncture would be an insult to the word zero.
Still, the seed had been planted and before it could be blown away by the winds of total disinterest, it happened — I got sick. Not bad, but bad enough to stay home from school for a couple days.
During that era of Major League Baseball the World Series was only played in the afternoon, no matter the day of the week.
After an off-day on Monday, the World Series resumed the next day. I was at home by myself, while my Mom and Dad were at work, so the television was my nurse.
Imagine my surprise when I saw that the World Series was on again. I decided to watch it this time.
I watched the pregame show; I watched every pitch; I watched every interview; I watched the postgame show.
I had officially been bitten by the bug. In fact, I was so severely infected that when I learned that the World Series would also be televised on Wednesday and Thursday, my “one-day bug” miraculously overcame me and I had to stay home from school the rest of the week.
To this day I’m not sure what it was that drew me in. It certainly could have been the amazing glove work of Baltimore third baseman Brooks Robinson. I became so enthralled with him that both of my sons — Ryan Satcher and Bradley Bishop — had it drilled into them at a young age that if anyone ever asked them “who is the greatest third baseman of all time,” the only proper response was Brooks Robinson. Don’t believe it? Just ask them now and see how they respond.
It could have been the pitching of Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer; the great diving catches in the outfield by the Mets’ Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda; the hitting of Cleon Jones and Donn Clendenon; or the base running of Paul Blair. But I was bit, and bit hard.
Make that consumed.
The next summer I participated in youth league baseball for the first time, playing for the Lumberjacks, where I very firmly held a grip on the role of being “the worst player on the team.” It’s an honor I never relinquished throughout my youth baseball career.
But no matter my success, or lack thereof, the love that had been sparked for sports couldn’t be quenched.
After it became obvious I would’t become a professional athlete, or a coach (they kind of insisted you attend college for more than three semesters to achieve that), I found another way to feed that inner longing.
And I’ve been doing it for 45 years.
Never underestimate what one moment in time can accomplish. For me, it was life-changing.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. His connection with the Meridian Star began in the fall of 1977 as a sports correspondent. He returned to Meridian in the summer of 1984 when he was named sports editor of the Star and served in various capacities at the newspaper over a 20-year span. His work has appeared in most dailies and many weeklies in Mississippi. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia.