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The Christmas Party Scored a Home Run

THE best Christmas party I ever attended came the year the Baptists won the Church Baseball League Trophy. It was strictly an ecumenical party, which in those days was improbable in a hard-shell Baptist vestry, but as the philosopher said, circumstances make strange bedfellows. That was the year I played right field for the Baptists and batted .234. Because our Baptist squad had mostly non-Baptists, we trounced the Congos three straight games, and the Congos were the team to beat. This is how that came about: I had been playing left field for the Congos the past two summers, but as the Congos were the leading persuasion in our town we had a big squad and as everybody took turns I didn't get to play every game. I'd warm the bench, and maybe get to pinch-hit, when I usually struck out on three pitches. But the Baptists, that year, came up scarce, and when the mud began to dry around the pitcher's mound they had just a shortstop and a catcher. Their coach, who was also the minister, had to find some players. We had only two churches in our town then. But we fielded eight teams in the Church League. We did have Friends Society just over the line in the next town, but they didn't play baseball. Instead, the Holbrooks of Holbrook Landing had a family team that they called the Friendly Flamingoes, but the Holbrooks didn't go to any church. The other teams were like that - the Pentecostal Pirates, the Adventist Tigers, the Methodist Magics, the Unitarian Unicorns, and so on. So the Baptist minister came to me and proposed that I become converted, and as right fielder on his team I'd get to play every game. I talked this over with our Congo coach, and he felt he could get along without me. Then I talked it over with my mother, who would have been C. of E. from her upbringing if we'd had a C. of E. church in town, or a C. of E. baseball team, and while she had misgivings she said she'd ask my father. My father used to play in a church league in his time, as a Free Thinker, and he said he didn't care which team I played for if I'd just learn not to stick my right foot in the bucket when I swung. In that way I became a Baptist right fielder. The season started well and we took the first three games, one from the Congos. I began keeping my foot up, and had good luck with bloopers down the first base line. What bothered Mother was a rule the Baptists had that their ball players had to go to Sunday School. The Congos didn't have that rule. But it turned out the Sunday School recessed from June through September and Mother relaxed. My father said if I wasn't going to Sunday School, then use the time to work on my swing. Anyway, we won the trophy and summer vacation was over and school kept, and altogether too soon the ground froze around the pitcher's mound and we took our skates to Mr. Varney who sharpened skates and Mallett's Pond froze over. The Baptist minister, looking ahead to next season, approached and reminded me that I was technically obligated, in a way, and he hoped I would plan to come to the big Christmas party for the young folks the Saturday before Christmas. In this way he told me right field was open, and as my mother said she thought it would be "all right" I went to the Christmas party and had a good time. It really was a wonderful party, and didn't have much to do with baseball, except that the Baptist shortstop and the Baptist catcher made up the committee that went up to Homer Loring's pasture and cut the Christmas tree. They got a beauty, with good thick bushy limbs and just the right height so the angel on top cleared the ceiling of the vestry. Mrs. Kneeland, our catcher's mother, played the piano and we did Seven In and Seven Out, Halt, Musical Chairs, and then we did Winkum, Drop the Fox and Hounds, Chase the Squirrel, and Button Button. Our third baseman and the Shorey girl led the Grand March. Everybody got a bag of hard candy and either a handkerchief or a bow tie. And a delicious molasses popcorn ball. Best popcorn ball I ever munched. Finest kind. The Baptist minister made them and they were great. That is, the coach - I mean.

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