Notes from Napa

Wednesday, July 07, 2010



Those were the first words Mr. Carpy said--no--yelled at me. "Get your hands on your knees and look like a ball player." He was over 70. I was 11. Scared the hell out of me. It was the 50's. My first practice. We were the new folks in town. The only ones dumb enough to pay $1,000 an acre for 12 acres and a house 4 miles out past the dump in Conn Valley.

Well, whadda ya expect from city people?

Rudy had sold us a drop calf for $30. We'd never seen a calf up close. Thought it was like a dog--named him Jupiter. Put him in the pasture and chained him up with a bowl of water nearby. City folks.

I thought I was one stud, left fielder. Where I came from, little leaguers had the cool stance--hands on hips, head cocked, just so. What was cool down in the city, didn't play up here. It took me about 30 seconds to figure out I wasn't making the rules--and my mean parents wouldn't bail me out. How un-hip to force me to cope by myself!

Mr. Carpy hadn't met our calf, Jupiter but no doubt he thought I knew as much about baseball as we knew about calves.

I'll never forget walking up to him that hot summer day, hand on hip (again) in the cool stance and cockily saying, "I want to try out for your first team."

I don't think he actually spit, but that was the expression on his face.

"We'll take a look at ya'," he said and turned and walked away. I thought this was a little league team like down in the Bay. Little did I know that it went up to 8th grade and occasionally played semi-pro teams from Petaluma if he couldn't schedule another game.

I was in 5th grade. The youngest player on the field--and no doubt the worst.

I think about those days as I attend the parents' meetings and read the articles by today's experts in child rearing and St. Helena's youth.

Like many of you, we were not born here. We came because we liked what we saw--not to change it. Jim Pop insisted that since we were the outsiders, we had to conform to the local customs, and not vice versa.

So, my hands went from my hips to my knees--and two weeks later I got a baseball uniform, 3 sizes too big ,that had "Ray's Place" stitched on the back, under a Martini glass. (No one knew from politically correct back then). I was on the bench, but made the team on my own. (This was before the days of "everyone has to play in every game" mentality). That summer, I played one inning all summer long. The following summer I think I played two innings. But had I ever felt more pride?

Eventually, as I learned my craft I would become a starter, even rising to clean up hitter by 8th grade. But it was work--hours and hours on the batting Tee up at the Lazy J.

This is a long way of getting around to saying that it's too bad more of you didn't know Jim Pop. You might have liked the way he thunk. Mr. Carpy sure did. On so many levels they were soulmates.