Those growing up in small-town Utah had a lot in common.
We all dealt with neighbors and loved ones going off to war. Our dads worked at the same places and earned the same low wages. In the big city everyone tried to keep up with the Joneses. In our towns we were all the Joneses.We dressed in the same cheap clothing or hand-me-downs. No Calvin Kleins or Ralph Laurens, just the General Store and JCPenney. We weren't choosey. We were all in the same class - poor.
We also had a common gathering spot, a place where the cares of the world seemed unimportant and childhood freedom reigned - the old ballpark.
For me, in the early 1950s, it was Garfield Park. Located 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, it was our Disney World, our Magic Kingdom.
At Garfield Park we didn't mind that grass didn't grow there. There was still a game or two every night. Darkness never prevailed. It didn't matter if it was a fastpitch softball game or a baseball game. We didn't care. For us, it was our Yankee Stadium.
The first one to the park would drag an old chain-link fence around the park to smooth out the rough edges. We mowed the weeds. There were many. We didn't care. It was the games that counted.
The glove I started playing with was a little larger than my hand. It didn't have a pocket. It was flatter than a pancake. But it was my dad's and I loved it.
It was a time when we left our gloves on the field between innings. Sometimes even your opponents used them. We didn't care. It was the games that counted.
My dad bought me a better glove when my game improved - a Rawlings glove auto-graphed by Mickey Mantle. It was too special to leave on the field between innings. I was the envy of our neighborhood, let alone our team. I was living high on the hog. Life couldn't be better.
We were fortunate to have uniforms. When we did, they were those loose fitting heavy wool jobbers. They weren't designed for comfort. When we got hot, they gained 5 or 6 pounds by holding our perspiration. Still, it was a thrill just to put those reds and whites on. They made us feel like major leaguers.
The older players always made an impact on me. They taught me how to play the game. That's what counted, the games. Life couldn't be better.
You couldn't live around Garfield without a nickname. Fishmouth, Buck, Buckwheat, Moose, Gumpy, Killer, etc. Mine was Torch. People I grew up with didn't know my real name, just my ballpark name. Until this day people still call me that.
If you got a strawberry on your back side from sliding into a base, you couldn't cry. Most people didn't care that you got it, and the others were happy that you got it.
We really wanted to win. Call it town pride. No one in Utah could name a better Little League team than the Garfield Bobcats. We played the entire summer back then, 50 games. Nowadays the leagues end in June. Families have vacations to take. Summers at the Garfield Park were our vacations.
There wasn't a hint of crime. We left the doors to our houses wide open while everyone was at Garfield Park. We knew everyone in town. Unfamiliar faces were scared away.
That Garfield Park allowed us to dream. I loved that old ballpark. But life was simple then. It was the game that counted.
Editor's note: Dan Pattison was a sports writer with the Deseret News. He covered the ABA's Utah Stars, 1970-75. He also worked as a sports writer for the Las Vegas Sun, The Sporting News, Basketball Times and Basketball Weekly. Although retired, he is still watching over ballparks. Pattison is an International Softball Congress commissioner. He operates the ISC's Web site at (http://www.fastpitch-softball.com.)