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McCollum's Column: One small hit for man; one giant leap for mankind

Posted: July 21, 2014 - 9:32am

As the softball sailed into a tree, the Eagle landed

 

It’s amazing how in our high-def world, blurry low-defintion image is unforgettable.

Forty-five years ago Sunday, Americans landed on the moon surface. It was one of those times you remember exactly where we were.

On reflection, here is a 2009 column I wrote on the special event and how it intertwined with a softball game:

NEIL ARMSTRONG AND SOFTBALL MEMORIES

“I don’t remember the score of that Sunday softball game among many longtime friends. I don’t remember who won.

“I’ll never forget the circumstances.

“A group of us had played softball just about every Sunday afternoon at the elementary school field just about every year of our high school careers. It was a staple in the schedule — ball, fun, kidding, talk about those critical issues (like girls) that every high school student faces.

“This particular game in 1969 served as part of a reunion summer. Many of us had just experienced our first year of college at different places and there was a lot to talk about.

“And there was something more.

“As we were playing softball as usual, man was about to land on the moon.

“This was one of the impossible achievements of our lifetimes to that point. It was especially amazing to all of us who had struggled with those math problems such as, ‘if a train traveling 70 miles an hour could travel to Chicago with 1,000 passengers weighing 150 pounds each, how long would it take to travel at 60 miles an hour to Baltimore with 500 passengers weighing 200 pounds each?’

“It was a pleasant July 20 day.

“Normally, someone would bring a medium-sized transistor (primitive computer chip) radio to the games and place it alongside our water jugs under a large oak tree that was a few yards outside of third base. It was usually tuned to the St. Louis Cardinal game.

“This time, just about every station was breaking in with news reports of what was happening in another world.

“On a good day, we normally played two.

“I think we were somewhere in the middle of the second game when someone fouled a ball high into the oak tree and it stuck in a branch. We were in the process of throwing balls and gloves at the branch in an effort to dislodge the ball when a friend by the radio motioned us over. We all were silent as we sprawled in the grass and listened to the static-filled description.

“The Eagle was landing.

“The game at that point didn’t matter. Could they do it?

“We listened to the description and whatever we could decipher of what the astronauts were saying to Houston ground control as they attempted to land. Most of us took deep breaths. A few of us looked to the sky — and imagined.

“The Eagle landed.

“We all let out a loud cheer. We jumped up and down. This was a major triumph of our lives. We remembered as elementary children how incredible it was to watch a manned rocket leave the earth.

“We had won the space race.

“We quickly played out the game and returned home.

“Each friend I talked to about it later said they immediately gathered about the television — and listened to Walter Cronkite, the voice and the lyric behind all the drama of the space program.

“I remembered how Cronkite was giddy like a schoolgirl for hours after the achievement.

“And while over at another friend’s house, several of us watched a young boy slide down a flight of stars on his belly — something he took pride in doing — then watched those primitive, grainy, shadowy images as Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon.

“Again, for those watching, Cronkite was the maestro helping direct the movement and rhythm of history.

“If Walter was relieved, we all were. If Walter was really happy, we all were.

“The specifics of that softball game are rapidly fading.

“The players who played in it are scattered.

“Moon walks, outside of what the late Michael Jackson did, are a faint memory — or no memory to several generations.

“And now Walter Cronkite, that steady narrator of the historical drama, is gone.

“I went by that elementary school in Memphis not long ago. Even that large stately oak that provided our backdrop to history is no longer there and the ballfield has been removed and replaced by a track.

“But the feelings from that afternoon and the emotion from those words, ‘The Eagle has landed’ still rise with power to the surface of the memory when there are jolts like what happened this weekend.

“Remember how you felt when you got your first hit in a ballgame? Or hit that first really good golf shot? Or caught your first fish?

“It was all that — and maybe a little more.”

(Sports columnist David MCCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)

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(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

 

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