by Scott Kindberg
February 13, 2005
The Story Of A Father, A Son And An Umpire
Note: On the day that former minor league baseball player and longtime umpire, Lyle Parkhurst of Jamestown is laid to rest, the following is a fictional account of a conversation between a father and his son. Parkhurst died Wednesday (February 9, 2005) at the age of 80.
Dripping with sweat in the summer heat, a father and his son walk off the smallest baseball diamond at Bergman Park on Baker Street in Jamestown, find their way through an opening in the fence next to the third base dugout and make a beeline for the bleachers behind the backstop.
More than an hour of practice - hitting, pitching and fielding - have left the 10-year-old boy, his red Jock Shop Athletic Club cap pulled low on his head and the bill perfectly shaped, and the 40-something man tired, but rewarded, by another afternoon of male bonding.
The boy, a reserve on his Cal Ripken League team, and his father have made a habit of spending time at the field because the young pitcher/outfielder wants to improve his baseball skills. So as he sits down on the metal bleachers and looks out at the beautifully manicured field with the lights towering overhead, his father reaches into a cooler and pulls out a couple of soft drinks, opens them, and hands one to his son. The boy takes a long drink, puts the plastic bottle down and looks up at his father.
"What story do you have for me today?" the boy asks.
Stories are as much a part of their daily trips to the field as learning how to catch the ball with two hands. You see, the father wants his son to know about some of the history of baseball in Jamestown and, more importantly, some of the neat people who have shared their love of the game to young and old alike.
"Well," the father says, "see the area right behind home plate?"
"Yeah," says the boy as he pulls a batting glove off his left hand.
"Who stands there for every one of your games?"
"That's a dumb question, Dad. Everyone knows the umpire does."
"Well, son, there are umpires and then there are umpires. Let me tell you about the one I had when I was about your age."
The boy is hardly impressed.
"How interesting can that be? They call balls and strikes. They yell safe or out. Maybe we should skip the story this time."
"Hear me out. I've got one about a special umpire, one who wasn't just wearing a mask, shin guards and a chest protector. He always wore a smile, had a kind word and a love for kids. He was my friend."
"OK, tell me more."
"Well, when I first played up here - it was called Little League back then - I wanted to be a pitcher, just like you. So during one game, my coach told me to go behind the dugout and play catch with one of my teammates, because I was going to pitch the next inning."
"Really? Were you nervous?"
"Yeah, I had never pitched in a game before and I hadn't practiced much either. I really didn't have a clue where to put my foot on the rubber, how to pitch from a windup or how to keep the ball down in the strike zone."
"It must have been a lonely feeling out there, huh?"
"It was at first. But after I threw a couple of pitches to the backstop, the ump called time, walked to the mound, took off his mask and chest protector and asked me to give him the ball."
"The umpire? During a game?"
The father pulled a baseball from his son's equipment bag and spun it in his right hand until he got the grip just right.
"Yes, and with all the parents, players and coaches watching, he patiently instructed me how to grip the ball, how to toe the rubber and how to get the ball over the plate."
"What did the coaches for the other team say? Were they mad?"
"No, they were smiling. They had seen the umpire do it all the time."
"But, Dad, what made the umpire such an expert on pitching? It's not like he was a professional."
"Yes, he was. In fact, this man was a minor league pitcher for 10 years in the 40's and 50's. Three of those years he spent with the Jamestown Falcons of the old PONY League. They played their games at Municipal Stadium, which is now called Diethrick Park. It's where we go to see the Jammers play. One year my friend won 20 games."
"Wow, did he ever make it to the major leagues?"
"No, but he did make it to Buffalo of the International League, which is one step below the majors. And, he also faced Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. We visited the museum last year, remember?"
The boy sat quietly for a moment, recalling the trip they had made to the birthplace of baseball. Then his eyed widened a bit.
"Your umpire was good enough to pitch to a Hall-of-Famer?"
"Yeah, from what I've been told, he was as gutty a pitcher as Jamestown has ever seen."
"How did he do against Mr. Musial?"
"Well, the first time up, Musial grounded out. The second time he hit a home run more than 400 feet. But what's neat is that my umpire friend considered it an honor just to be on the same field as Musial. He told me once that giving up that homer was his biggest baseball thrill."
"Really? Giving up a home run is a thrill?"
"Well, son, you have to understand my friend. He loved baseball, loved the competition, and, after in life, loved to be involved in the game. He knew he wouldn't always have success, but he just enjoyed being out there. That's why he started umpiring after he retired."
"How many games do you think he umpired?"
"Thousands and thousands. He did it for more than 50 years, stopping just a couple of years before he died in 2005. He was 80 years old, you know."
"Eighty? You mean he was still umpiring when he was nearly that old?"
The son is still trying to grasp the enormity of such a lengthy career when his father looks at his watch, stands up abruptly from his bleacher seat and nearly knocks the two soft drinks on the ground.
"Oh my gosh, finish your Mountain Dew. We've got to get home. Mom needs the car to run some errands."
The boy lifts the bottle to his lips and tips his head back to get the last drop, picks up his equipment bag and steps off the bleachers. Before he heads to the car, he does a 90-degree turn in the direction of the concession stand, a cinder-block building behind the backstop.
"What are you doing? Mom's waiting. We've been here longer than we were supposed to be. Besides you know the concession stand is only open on game days."
"I'm looking to see if there's a plaque mounted on the front of the building."
"Because your umpire friend sounds like a really special guy. I want to know his name."
"But, son, his name isn't on that building."
"Then I think it should be. I think he deserves to be remembered forever, for all that he did in his life, particularly for kids. I wish he was still around. I would love to have known him. What was his name?"
"Lyle Parkhurst. Everybody knew him as "Parky."
"Hmmmmm. I've got an idea."
"I know what we can call our field."
"And what might that be?"
"Parkhurst Field at Bergman Park. I'm going to talk to my coach about it."
"That does have a nice ring to it. But knowing Parky like I did, I'm sure he would be embarrassed that we are even discussing this."
"I don't care, Dad. You've always told me that once a call is made, it has to stand. You can't change your mind."
"You know what, son?" the father said, putting his arm around the boy's shoulders as they headed to the car. "You're right. No one can argue this call."