The late Leon James, aka "Puddin' Head," was a lot more than just my Babe Ruth League baseball coach. He was my father's best friend, and he became one of my best friends as well. He was always someone I really could count on when I needed advice. He was a great person and, when my Babe Ruth playing days were over when I turned 16, he invited me to join him as his assistant coach on the Post 105 Babe Ruth League team. I also played some for my Dad who coached the Post 105 American Legion team. In other words, my springs and summers were pretty busy.
I learned a lot about baseball from my Dad and "Puddin". I also learned a lot about perseverance. My father first met "Puddin" when they were both employed at the Dupont plant in Old Hickory, TN.
After a few years, they both became victims of a huge cut back. They were both laid off and they each spent a long time without a job. They each decided to take the Civil Service exam and join the United States Post Office. They both passed the test and became mail carriers; jobs they each held until they retired.
The two really great friends played on several baseball and softball teams when I was a little boy. Times were different back in the 1950's. Parents hardly ever worried about their children in public places. Crime in the Madison, TN community didn't really exist or, if it did, you rarely ever heard about it. In fact, the area of town I lived in had just one policeman. This was a long time before Davidson County became a metropolitan form of government. While the guys played a softball game one night in Old Hickory, I was playing with some of the other kids and suddenly I was hungry. I went to the concession stand and ordered a hamburger. When it came time to pay, I didn't have any money so I placed a few rocks on the counter as my currency. The lady in the concession stand laughed but she allowed me to have the hamburger. After I ate the burger, I went back for popcorn and a candy bar. Once again, I paid for my purchase with rocks; this time I left a huge pile of rocks as payment. After all, if they were nice enough to give me food from the concession stand, I wanted to make sure they were adequately compensated. Again, they laughed and allowed me to pay with rocks.
A little later, I decided I would buy my Dad and "Puddin" a Coca-Cola. It was quite warm that evening and I was sure they were both thirsty. So, I grabbed more rocks and bought them each a Coke. When I handed them their drinks, they asked me where I got the money to buy them. I then reached into my pocket and handed them each a few rocks. My father was appalled at the idea that I had purchased all my food with rocks.
After the game, they went to the concession stand and settled my account with real money. Everyone had a huge laugh over my purchases with rocks. "Puddin" never let me forget about the night I paid for my food with rocks. He remained someone that was bigger than life to me from that point on. A baseball season never goes by that I don't think about "Puddin" and I'm thankful for the time I spent with him.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com