A Baseball Love Affair
The year was 1950. Larry Borst was stationed in Germany, where the United States Army sent thousands of soldiers after World War II, including the likes of Elvis Presley.
In 1950, patriotism was running high in America. The ghosts of so many brave men who had perished in Germany and Japan during the second World War were still haunting figures. 1950 was a time when the stars and stripes of the American flag stood for something. America stood for freedom, for opportunity and, of course, America stood for baseball.
In Germany, thousands of miles away from his home in Forest Grove, Borst had little to remind him of America except for baseball.
One day, Borst and one of his Army buddies put on mitts, took out a baseball and began playing catch outside their barrack.
As they threw the baseball around, lofting the perfectly shaped white sphere into the air and cradling it in their cowhide gloves, a lieutenant walked by them.
You boys play baseball? the lieutenant asked.
Well, sure, Borst said. It seemed such an obvious answer. Borst and his friend were American boys. Of course they played baseball.
Well, what position do you play? the lieutenant asked.
Borst told the lieutenant that he was a pitcher and his friend was a shortstop.
That was good enough for the lieutenant. He asked Borst and his friend to play baseball on one of the Armys teams.
While patriotism was running high in America during the 1950s, Borst did not enjoy his time in the Army, for a variety of reasons. But, playing baseball, the sport he had played since he was 8 years old, Borst found something that made his time in the military bearable.
The next summer, in 1951, Borst was the winning pitcher in the 2nd Armored Division championship game. He continued playing baseball until he was discharged from the Army, as a sergeant.
I was looking forward to getting out, to tell you the truth, Borst said.
But, if he had not been able to play baseball, Borsts time in the military would have been a lot more unpleasant.
I got lucky, Borst says.
Today, Borst is 83 years old. Long ago, he lost the ability to play the game that he loves, as all boys do sooner or later when age overtakes them. Borsts sport is now golf. He plays often at a par 3, nine-hole golf course that is just a stones throw away from his Vernonia home.
Recently, Borst was selected to the Forest Grove High School Athletic Hall of Fames 2012 class. It was news that brought back some of the joy of all those days that Borst had spent on the diamond both in America and Germany
It means everything in the world to me, Borst says. Anytime your high school honors you, its hard to really express yourself. Its an honor. I dont know how else to put it.
At Forest Grove, Borst played football and basketball as well as baseball.
Baseball was what I excelled in more than anything, Borst says. But, I liked football, too. Basketball was just kind of a third thing.
Borst had a good breaking ball and sometimes an effective change up. But, he made his bread and butter as a flame thrower.
Borsts arm was developed through games of catch with his father throughout his childhood.
I have to go back to my Dad, Borst says. Ive thrown baseballs ever since I was 8 years old.
In 1947, Borst was the star pitcher on Forest Groves Tualatin Valley League championship team and was a member of the Up State All Star Team that year. Like all good pitchers, Borst credits his success to the team around him.
To be successful, you have to have good catchers for one thing, Borst says. I had that, fortunately. And I had a good team behind me. Thats very important. If youre going to win, youve got to have backup in both offense and defense.
After he finished his military service, Borst began pitching for the Salem Senators, a Class A professional team in the Western International League.
Borst went on to play and manage in the semiprofessional Blue Mountain League from 1956-1966.
Borst had to get jobs in the offseason to make ends meet, but during the season, he made enough money to support himself, his wife Joyce, and his three children.
You had to get a job in the offseason, Borst said. But, I was making enough during the regular season that we could live off of.
Borst and his wife had two daughters and one son, who he named Mickey after the legendary New York Yankees centerfielder Mickey Mantle.
After he left the Blue Mountain League, Borst got a job with a power company in Baker City as a line man.
Many days, when he got off from work, Borst taught Mickey the game of baseball the same way Borsts father had taught the game to him.
Borst spent time teaching Mickey how to hit and throw. Borst coached all of Mickeys Little League and Babe Ruth teams, and during the summers while Mickey was in high school, Borst also coached his American Legion teams.
The year is now 2012. Borst is far removed from the games of catch that he had with his father. He is far removed from the game of catch that he had with his army buddy outside of their barrack in Germany. He is far removed from the games of catch that he had with his son.
But, the thing about baseball is that no matter how many years have past, the timeless game remains in a mans blood. And as Borst prepares to enter the Forest Grove High School Athletic Hall of Fame, he can still remember what those games of catch felt like.
For Borst, baseball was always a game of love. It was always a family game.
Its a great feeling when you can pass it on down, Borst says. Everything my dad ever taught me I tried to pass on to my son.