I really want my Manhattan Slugger shirt back.
I don’t know why I started thinking about this recently, but I’ve had a long obsession with t-shirts, either goofy, smart or cool. It doesn’t take much provocation.
There are several others I wish I still had, and I’ll get to that list in a minute.
But first, the Slugger, clearly at the top. Back in the day, everybody played city league baseball and softball. There weren’t traveling teams, other than the 17ers and the Cuties, and those were for older high-school kids. So if you were about age 10 to 16, you were playing City League. The games were a big deal.
If you hit an over-the-fence homer, the scorekeeper gave you a coupon that you’d take down to Ballard’s, and they would screen-print you a shirt that said “Manhattan Slugger.” Each additional home run you hit, they would add a star to the shirt. Steve Ballard and Doug Nelson, my best sources on this, said they stopped doing the Slugger shirt in the early 1990s. Times change.
A friend recently mentioned a limit on the number of stars you could add, but I had no reason to know that. I only ever had one. I knocked one out to left-center at Miller Field in City Park in Cookie League, playing for the Blaker Studio Royals. It was off James Albright, who was a helluva baseball player and probably just felt enough pity for me to groove a fastball. (He ended up on the 17ers eventually, and I ended up on the tennis team.)
Walked into Ballard’s the next day, hoping I saw someone I knew. I wore that thing around as much as I could get away with.
No idea what happened to it. Like everything else, it probably wore out and I’m sure I just pitched it or left it lying around somewhere once it was no longer cool. In this life, you just move on, and you throw stuff away as you go. Can’t remember any ache of nostalgia or moment of separation. It just was, and then it wasn’t.
Other shirts I miss:
• Ballard’s: For all you whippersnappers, Ballard’s was a sporting goods store in Aggieville. It was a mecca for athletes, where you’d get your ball gloves and basketball shoes, and there’s a whole column to be written about that. When you needed something like that, you went down to Ballard’s. (It was always “down,” and I don’t really know why, since it wasn’t in a basement. Same as Aggieville generally — people go “down to Aggieville,” even though it’s at the same elevation as the rest of the town.) Anyway, pretty much every kid had a t-shirt with the Ballard’s logo prominently on it, in one way or another, and I wish I had one now.
•The Blue River Pub Chicken Flying Contest: OK, so I couldn’t legitimately wear this one. I never went to the event, held near the now-defunct townie bar out near the lake. The event was a day-long annual affair featuring an actual chicken-flying contest, a beer-chugging relay, and so forth. The commemorative t-shirt was very cool, with a line drawing of a mid-flight splayed-out hen.
--Pyramid Pizza. Goofy cartoonish logo for an Aggieville pizza joint. Good pizza. Great shirt.
--A J. Geils Band “Freeze Frame” 1982 concert tour t-shirt. The Ahearn appearance in April was my first big rock concert. See column last month.
--My old Manhattan High P.E. shirt, complete with Indian head and my surname scrawled by Congleton with black sharpie. For that matter, I’d take a black-and-gold Manhattan Middle School Papooses shirt. Come to think of it, I’d REALLY like one of those.
--Some of my Manhattan Parks and Rec “league champs” shirts from my brief-but-glorious adult slow-pitch softball career, otherwise known as the “orthopedic surgeons’ gold mine.” OK, so I only had one such championship. Big deal. I’m sure those muscly dudes from the B&L Trash or Mike’s Wrecker teams have about 27 they could spare.
--No broad Manhattan connection, but I’d sure like my Cinnamon Toast Crunch shirt back. You could get one free in exchange for five box tops, and my high school crew named our intramural basketball team “The Crunchers” to match those freebies. Damn good cereal to boot. I kept mine for sentimental reasons until a few years ago, then...same old story.
--I have to mention an “I Survived the Aggieville Riots” shirt from the early 1980s. K-State fans tipped over a VW and generally got out of hand when we beat KU, back when both teams were terrible in football. I wasn’t there, but I do remember the shirt.
Now, for a few I wish existed:
--Somebody could make a tidy profit on commemorative shirts for Goofy or The Low Road, two party spots on the lake, or even for the daytime hangout called The Rocks. There never were such shirts, because nobody back in the day wanted anyone else — meaning, adults — to know about their existence. So, forget it. I never mentioned it. No idea what you’re talking about.
--Pretty much any old bar t-shirt. I’d get a kick out of one for “Mother’s Worry,” just for the name. “Charlie’s Bar,” I’d take one of those. That place lurked in the basement of the bank building at the corner of Denison and Claflin; it gave out pitchers for a penny after you paid a $5 cover on Thursday nights one summer in my college years. T-shirts? Pfft! Which of course makes the idea of a t-shirt particularly appealing.
--Speaking of which, how about a Swannie’s Back Door shirt? Swanson’s was a downtown bakery; they would open the back door and sell doughnuts in the
wee hours on weekends. Their hottest item: The yum-yum. The predecessor by several decades to the Varsity food truck.
--Several friends and my wife, all of whom have an obvious sancho addiction, would really go for a Taco Hut shirt.
I should note that I did actually hang on to some doozies. I have a 1993 Copper Bowl shirt, a t-shirt from the last game played in Ahearn — which I immediately hung up and never wore — and then some commemorative jobbies I bought in later years because of my sentimentality: Dark Horse and Brothers bar t-shirts, and one I had made for the “I Wonder” column. Come to think of it, you probably need a Manhattan Mercury t-shirt right now, don’t you?