The last time I played for a sports team that wasn’t digital was in the summer of 1989, if memory serves, in the Weatherford, Oklahoma Little Leagues.
I was the smallest boy in my school. That, coupled with a lifetime struggle with allergies, has rendered me a lifelong non-athlete. I was a kid who lived in his own imagination, and, to a lesser degree, in his own NES. I couldn’t be bothered with playing shortstop when there was a princess that needed saving – be she 8-bit or entirely imaginary. She was out there, and she needed me.
Oh, wait, was I supposed to catch that? Whatever.
That said, I enjoyed the last little league team I played for. My mom was one of the coaches, and we won second place in the league tournament that year.
We were the 89ers.
After we won our trophies, all the coaches and parents chipped in to take us to All Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City to watch our namesakes, the Oklahoma City 89ers.
That night stands out in my mind as a highlight of my childhood; it was one of the first times I remember truly enjoying sports. Every time I hear the Don Henley song “Boys of Summer,” I think about that night.
In high school I knew someone who worked at All Sports Stadium, on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City; it was not a great facility. Since then the stadium has been razed, its glorious replacement erected in Bricktown, and the team’s name changed from the 89ers to the Redhawks.
I know the Oklahoma Land Runs inspire memories of Manifest Destiny and broken treaties; Oklahoma City singer-songwriter K.C. Clifford wrote a whole song about it, titled “Redman.” But whatever the implications, the team name, The 89ers, was reminiscent of something very specific to Oklahoma City – the way and the time in which it was founded, a way that is unique and weird among American cities. The “Redhawks” name for me sounds a little generic.
Don’t get me wrong – All Sports Stadium was nothing compared to The Brick; love sports or hate ’em, that this city is moving up in the world in terms of its professional teams and facilities has done wonders for it. I’m looking forward to a summer full of games downtown.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia; I think, in the end, most of what Americans love about baseball – especially in this age of endless steroid confessions – is about nostalgia, about a simpler time. For me, the name – The 89ers – it evokes that.