Brian Hoffman Collumn – June 29th, 2017

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The Moyer Complex is the site for RAYSA softball games this week, and next week the Dixie League All-Star baseball tournaments will be here. Fans will see a variety of colorful uniforms as teams come from around the Roanoke Valley to compete.

Things have certainly changed from the time when I was playing youth baseball. I’ll go to travel baseball and softball tournaments and see all these nice uniforms, with young kids having their own travel bags, expensive bats and even jackets and sweatshirts with team names. For the all-star tournaments at Moyer many of the teams get new uniforms just for the occasion, and sometimes they’ll play just two games before being eliminated, never to use the new treads again in competition.

Like I said, things have certainly changed since I was a kid. Back in the day our area didn’t have tee-ball or coach pitch, we started off playing real baseball, with kids pitching, at eight years old. It wasn’t a big deal because we’d been playing hardball baseball on the local sandlots since we were five.

Our “uniforms” for the 10 year old league consisted of a t-shirt and a wool cap, and you had to give the t-shirt back at the end of the season. I played for the “Shelly & Fenstermacher” lumber yard team. We had blue t-shirts with the sponsor’s name across the front, and when a couple t-shirts wore out they were replaced with a few new ones that didn’t quite match the printing or color.

The caps were a solid color with no logos, somewhat matching the color of the shirt. You wore blue jeans or old pants to play and if you were lucky you had baseball cleats. If you weren’t, there were four choices for sneakers, high or low and black or white.

Once you got to the 12 year old league you got a full uniform, and that was a thrill. You actually had a number on your back, baseball pants and stirrup socks. The uniforms were a thick, wool material and they were hot on a summer day, but you didn’t mind because you felt like a real baseball player wearing that outfit.

The hats were still logo-less at that point, unless you played for the French’s Mustard team. We had a mustard plant in our town, and yes you could smell it at night if you lived nearby.

French’s sponsored a 12 year old team featuring red hats with the French’s logo on the front, and I thought they were just the coolest thing around. I sported a plain black hat with my team, sponsored by a local dairy. It was actually Hoffman’s Dairy, no relation, our perk was we often got free ice cream after the game when the owner showed up. That was better than getting mustard to be sure.

I’m sure I sound like the old man who claims to have walked 10 miles through snow to get to school every day, but actually I’m not complaining. I thought we had it good. We had a nice ballpark in my hometown and once a week the guy from the local radio station sat on a chair atop the dugout and broadcast one of the games live on the radio. How cool is that?

We had good players and we loved baseball, and our league lasted until the first week of August. No all-stars, no playoffs, just regular season games a couple times a week all summer long.

I used to ride my bike to the games. You’d see a whole row of bikes at the ballpark because that was the preferred mode of transportation for kids back in the day. You know how many bikes I’ve seen parked outside the Moyer Complex this year? I think the next one I see will be the first.

I’m a firm believer that kids need to ride bikes, play baseball and stay active. Ride a skateboard, swim in a pool, have a great time. Soon enough you’ll have to get a job, then you’ll long for the days when every day was a Saturday.