LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES — The house on Euclid and Little League baseball

J.T. Knoll
Foodtown Pepsi 1959 - Brother Mark is batboy, Dad is coach, Gary standing 2nd from right on back row.

This week’s column by Gary Gleason, which relates his experiences with the family’s move to a new house and playing baseball for Foodtown Pepsi, is excerpted from his essay “Boyhood Days in Pittsburg, Kansas.” Gary is now retired and living with his wife in Gainesville, Georgia. — J.T.K.

603 W. Euclid

We weren’t poor but not well off, Dad was the sole family provider as mom was a full time homemaker with five kids to bring up. We always rented, couldn’t afford to own a home, but in 1956 things must have started to look up.

We were living on Lindburg St. near the college. The Shields lived four houses down. Mrs. Shields, who was a professor at KSTC, taught me violin lessons twice a week. I wanted to play fiddle like Shorty on KOAM TV’s Melody Matinee … but lacked the patience.

The Shields were close friends to Mom and Dad, Their son, Sidney was my best pal; we did overnights often and did everything together. Around 1956, the Shields moved to Euclid Street in Pittsburg. Soon after, the house next to them was for rent with an option to buy. They told mom and dad about it, encouraging them to move.

This was mom and dad’s dream home — a huge two story with full basement, more room than we could imagine. This house even had telephones on both floors and all the bedrooms were upstairs. DeAnn could have her own bedroom, Mark and I would share a big bedroom where we could look out over the whole neighborhood from two stories up.

I should mention here my brother Mark developed a fondness for playing with matches. One day, he set our bed mattress ablaze in our 2nd floor suite. He nearly burned the house down had it not been for mom's nose for smoke. I played no part in this.

It was all Mark’s fault.

Dad applied for home loans to buy the house twice but was turned down by the banks both times. I don’t know many more details other than mom and dad were so disappointed and we had to move. We moved to 419 W Kansas about three blocks north of Euclid. Dad later told me he and mom were heartbroken they were not able to buy our home on Euclid. They wouldn’t own a home until 25 years later in Georgia.

Foodtown - Pepsi

Little League baseball was my life. These were the glory days.

I played for Foodtown Pepsi in the JL Hutchinson Little League. Dad coached, Mark was the batboy, mom worked the refreshment stand and my big sister sat in the stands and gawked at the ball players, especially Steve Reynolds.

For several precious summers, my family’s lives rotated around Little League baseball.

All summer long, we lived by the game schedule tacked on my bedroom wall.

If you hit a home run you won a half-gallon of ice cream from the Foodtown grocery store, not to mention getting your name in the sports page of The Pittsburg Sun.

KOAM radio even broadcasted some of the games; by hitting a home run you gained celebrity status from the other ball players in Pittsburg the next day.

All the guys wore our team caps everywhere we went all year round. Our teams were who we were. I was “Foodtown Pepsi,” Charley Packard was “7 Up,” Jerry Esch was “The Cadets,” and Steve Herman was “The Knights of Columbus”. Where your team ranked in the league standings defined your status among your peers. When we rode our bikes around town, your team’s ranking in the league determined where you rode in the pack.

I was proud of my team; we were in 4th place. I wore #6 and played 1st base just like “Stan the Man”. Stan Musial was my hero.

When I got my report card, I would hand it to mom and tell her not to worry because there was little doubt I would be playing 1st base for the St. Louis Cardinals in the near future, so grades just weren’t that important. That’s the first time Mom uttered her infamous phrase “Son, you’re in for a rude awakening”. I had no Idea what she meant.

One summer, Dad spotted a kid during tryouts and picked him to play for Foodtown Pepsi, his name was Billy Russell. Billy was a natural; he went on to become an all-star shortstop and manager for the L.A. Dodgers.

I never made it to St. Louis.

If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to jtknoll@swbell.net or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309.