I have never had a facility for games involving teams and balls. When I was at Hogwarts (Downside School) team sports were a requirement, part of the curriculum for a young Catholic gentleman, but my ambitions were apparently elsewhere as I hated standing around in the rain and sleet waiting to get hit by a ball.
Not so the youngsters of the Southernmost City where baseball and its derivatives are considered the equivalent of a religion for young Conchs and their families. To be a Conch (a native of Key West, pronounced "konk") is to love team sports and they have the facilities to prove it.
I stopped by my favorite picnic table for a spot of al fresco lunch on a busy day recently and strolling around to digest my Cuban croquetas I noticed the names on the monument built to the glories of baseball past.
These names are not only a multi-ethnic mix of Cuban and Anglo in a time (the Fifties and Sixties) when the rest of the country was struggling to come to terms with national ethnicities and skin colors. Here there are names a resident of this island would recognize instantly and back then Key West was always a bit different managing to integrate ethnicities with less hassle than the rest of the South.
Even earlier baseball fans will recognize Boog Powell a famous Conch of major league fame. It has long been my belief that what marks you for life is not where you are born, in this case Lakeland, but where you went to high school and Boog graduated Key West. A Conch indeed, and he is claimed as a Conch despite the place of his birth..."Powell received the nickname “Boog” from his father. As Powell explained, “In the South they call little kids who are often getting into mischief buggers, and my dad shortened it to Boog.” All of which I think proves my point conclusively.
Looking at the plaque above you will recognize the owner of B.O.'s food shack on Caroline Street.Talking to my Conch friends other names leap out. Including I am told Mana Casas, not Mona.
I have always wanted to sit in the bleachers on a classic night game in the summer heat of Key West and I have yet to fulfill that ambitions as so far it has been thwarted by indolence and a little shyness. A Conch friend of mine is having a baby boy soon. I'll talk to him in a decade about taking me to a game...
This is all serious stuff and parents get quite passionate about their offspring's performance.
I like the symbolism, the lights the colors and the atmosphere of all the pent up emotion.
It doesn't matter that this is the Southernmost City and all that stuff the tourist brochures strut about Havana being closer than Walmart...This is where the heart of the Key West community beats. At the diamond.
It is also, incidentally where you will find me from time to time, devouring some All American Deli lunch from Publix just down the street.