Monday, February 04, 2013 4:41 PM
Slugger's first visit to Fleming Stadium
By Lee Jennings
"Why in the world did they have to go and plant all that ol’ tobacco?” said Sam to his brother and sister. Sam, Sawyer, and Sarah, ages 10, 8, and 6, had been playing baseball in the tobacco field and had learned to hit the ball so far that it took what seemed like a half of a day to find it. Then they would bring it back to home plate to hit it again. But now that a crop of tobacco had been set out, the month of April brought a halt to running through the field kicking up dirt clods and stepping wherever they wanted.
The children’s father had left a couple of unplanted rows so that they could still play, but they wanted the whole field back. However, they understood that if the tobacco wasn’t there, they would have lean helpings of beans and rice when the winter came. Their father’s money came from that tobacco crop, and they appreciated his hard work and respected his fair and kind ways. So, they would endure and just play in the two rows of dirt that were saved for them.
What the children didn’t realize was that a tobacco worm on the underside of a tobacco leaf was listening to everything they said. That tobacco worm watched them play baseball and loved the action. He loved how the ball whizzed through the air, how the bat sounded like it would crack when Sam hit the ball straight on, and he loved how Sawyer pretended to announce the game. "Now it’s Sarah coming up to bat. Oh, it’s exciting! Sarah made it to second base with a runner on third. It looks like it’s going to be a close one!” Sawyer would then somehow make a noise like a crowd cheering, and the other two players would smile and give a thumbs-up.
The tobacco worm could hardly wait every day for the three children to come outside to play baseball. He heard all about their plan to be at the season opener at Fleming Stadium. The Tobs Baseball Team played there in the Wilson, North Carolina, town about 15 miles from the Baxter Farm where the children lived. They talked about hotdogs, peanuts, popcorn, icy cold drinks, and snow cones. They talked about the announcer, the fans, Historic Fleming Stadium with the North Carolina Baseball Museum inside, the players’ uniforms, the talent of the players, and the fun games between innings. The Baxter kids could hardly wait to go.
The tobacco worm wanted to go to the season opener for the game too. Hmm, how could he get there? He then had a brilliant idea.
For the next few weeks, he worked on his plan. He would sneak out to the truck and hide in the back on the day of the first game of the season so that he could ride to the stadium with the Baxters and see a Tobs game first hand!
At the end of May, it was time for the big day. The season opener was finally here for the Tobs. The tobacco worm had become quite a good size now and had to hide so that the Baxter boys and Sarah wouldn’t see him watching their games and listening to them sing his favorite song, "Take me out to the Ballgame”. He had to be really careful that they didn’t catch him.
Late that afternoon, while the Baxters were inside getting ready to head into town, the tobacco worm sneaked over to the truck and hid in the bed of the truck under a pile of burlap bags. He was so excited that he could hardly stand it. His plan was now in action.
He heard the Baxter children’s excited voices as they came barreling out to the truck. He heard the family get in and felt the truck start moving. His heart was pounding. The gravel drive led to a paved road, and in a little while the truck stopped and the engine turned off. The worm had arrived at Fleming Stadium!
The Baxter family got their tickets and found their seats while the worm cautiously crawled out from under the burlap bags and headed for the stadium. He smelled the hotdogs and popcorn. He heard the crowd. He saw the ticket booth. But he didn’t have a ticket.
Thinking quickly, he walked up to the ticket booth and explained that he had no money to buy a ticket, but promised that if they would let him go in, he would be great entertainment. He could dance, run bases, play with the kids, help the players, or whatever they needed him to do. So, the man at the ticket booth talked to the manager of the Tobs who said that they had been looking for somebody to entertain the fans between innings, and they would give the worm a try, but he needed a name.
Well, to the worm’s surprise, they dressed him in a baseball uniform, including his very own baseball cap. He stepped into the stands, and the crowd went wild. A voice then came on the loud speaker announcing a contest to name the worm. The fans agreed on the name Slugger for their new mascot.
They were cheering and whistling so much that Slugger started dancing. The Tobs fans thought that the whole thing was a great idea, a tobacco worm for the Tobs . Slugger was thrilled!
Slugger danced and ran bases and performed between innings. He was so loved, that he just wanted to stay with the team forever. And he’s still with the team today.
Slugger enjoyed that first year in 1999, and he’s a natural as the mascot for the Wilson Tobs. Since his transition from the tobacco field to the baseball field, he’s eaten so many hotdogs and peanuts that he’s going into spring training with the team this year. He’s working toward a new look that will awe his fans at the opening game of the 2013 season. His first step in training will be a health evaluation at New Hope Primary Care. He knows that it’s important to know his health before starting a good exercise program and sports training.
Slugger will be eating healthy and having fun adventures in spring training. Fans of all ages will be surprised at his transformation since that day in 1999 and even since last year. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that’s Slugger’s love of the game.
©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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