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I was speaking to a fourth grade class about growing up in an era before TV, Nintendo, cell phones and Drew Barrymore. And I was down to that part where the fight broke out over in Frog Jump. …
I was speaking to a fourth grade class about growing up in an era before TV, Nintendo, cell phones and Drew Barrymore. And I was down to that part where the fight broke out over in Frog Jump. I’d set the backdrop for ’em, how as a fifteen year old I had been invited to play for our men’s baseball team.
These rival “town teams” Sunday afternoon games were a big deal in West Tennessee back before TV, Nintendo, cell... City pride was on the line! I was honored to be chosen. And I was by a whole heap the youngest player on the team. It was a fourth grade class so I didn’t elaborate on all the things a teenager could learn from the older men riding the forty miles down to Frog Jump.
Their baseball field was ancient. The wooden bleachers were just a handful of feet behind home plate. As a matter of fact, I could smell the breath of the leather lung who kept shouting, “Does your mother know you are out of the crib!” every time I came to bat.
Bill Hopkins was pitching for the home team. He was a big lefthander with the nastiest curve I’d ever seen. But to set it up, he would blaze his fast ball in under your chin from time to time. “Goat” Hayes, pitching for us, would naturally have to retaliate by breezing a couple of inside “high hard ones” right back at them.
You didn’t have to be grown up to see tempers were flying. Their right fielder fanned the fire, spiking Bobby Jack Cantrell as he slid hard into second base. The clincher came two innings later when Marvin Williams, a big guy himself, didn’t even bother to slide trying to score on “Birddog” Reed’s sharp single to left. He just lowered a shoulder and ran right over their catcher!
Both players came up swinging! Both teams erupted towards the combatants...except for me and Bobby Jack. As fans raced on to the field he pulled me over to the bat rack and handed me a Hank Aaron 34 inch, 32 ounce Louisville Slugger and grabbed another bat for himself. “Listen, it’s everyone for themselves in these melees; somebody comes close not wearing one of our jerseys, you crown him good!”
I explained to the kids that old “leather lung” remained up in the stands where I couldn’t get to him, order was finally restored, Marvin and their catcher shook hands and the game resumed.
I ran out of breath and needed a pause so I asked if they had any questions. One little fellow in the third row spoke right up. “We’d almost believe this story except there’s no way a town could be named Frog Jump!”
Since I’d grown up nearby it never crossed my mind the name might sound a bit implausible. In defending me and the town I explained that possibly a lot of frogs lived in the low lying ponds beyond the right field fence. Or maybe Mark Twain got his idea for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” after playing a baseball game here. Or perhaps a giant toad leaped from the Brazil-Frog Jump County Road across two fences and a deep marsh and landed on the front porch of Mr. Everett Hall’s sparkling white two-story house.
The third row guy jumped out of his seat, “Brazil is in South America!”
Boys and girls, Frog Jump and Brazil ain’t nothing as West Tennessee town names go. Just on the other side of the county is the thriving metropolis of China Grove. There are few trees, not one grove of any kind and, unless my elementary geography fails me, it’s not noticeably close to China.
They do have a general store that sells fireworks and rice.
If you leave China Grove, drop down to Good Luck, turn left on State Road 105 and drive a dozen miles you’ll find yourself in Skullbone. Now, finally, here’s a place with a traceable history. It was so named after the bare-knuckle fights (with a lot of shots against the skull bone) that took place illegally there in the 1890’s. People today come from miles around to see the place. George Jones put on a concert in a nearby field one summer.
Same boy starts shaking his head, “You’ve gone over the edge now; bare-knuckles, skullbones, George Jones...if storytelling is your business, you need to find a new line of work!”
Me and my third row Buddy