Sometimes you can be in the right place at the right time. For me, one of those times was in the middle of the summer of 1958 – a few days short of my 11th birthday. I was at Bill Meyer Stadium at a game of our minor league Knoxville (TN) Smokies. I had come from one of my little league games wearing my uniform, which I did not usually wear at a Smokies game.
Joe Seymour, the visiting team batboy, fell and broke his arm running to get a stretcher for a visiting team pitcher who had been hit in the head. Very bad for them, very good for me. I took over as the visiting team batboy, during that game and the remaining half of the 1958 season. The next year, I became the home team batboy. Johnny Pesky, the Boston Red Sox icon, was the manager and the Smokies won the league championship.
I spent 5 ½ seasons as a batboy, and I have jokingly said I should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, because I don’t know of anyone else who was ever a batboy longer than I was. I hung on as long as I did because I don’t believe the team could find anyone else to work as cheaply as I did. This was long before the days of minor league teams being worth many, many millions. I worked for free in the first season and a half and $1.50 a game for all the remaining years. Minor league teams were shoe-string operations in the ‘50s and ‘60s. You almost couldn’t give away a team in the ‘70s.
In 1985, I attended the baseball winter meetings, and at one session the speaker said a man bought the Richmond triple A team in 1978 for $25,000 and was given five years to pay. Now a AAA team would probably be worth $25 million or more.
For my $1.50, I would get to the ballpark about three hours before the game and finish packing up the bats and completing other final chores usually about six or seven hours later.
Thank goodness the federal government and child labor do-gooders did not get involved. I can’t think of a better way to grow up than spending those thousands of hours at the ballpark. I was very lucky to have been a batboy.
As another season is beginning, baseball is not the dominant sport it was when I snuck a transistor radio into my 7th grade study hall to listen to the 1960 World Series. But the money is much bigger, and while I still follow baseball closely, I am like most fans in being really turned off by the ridiculous salaries.