Spider. I have been asked many times why my sports column is entitled "Spider on Sports" it's a simple answer really, but one I'm very proud of. It goes back to my Little League days.
I remember going to Little League tryouts as an eight-year-old. The only concern I had was to make a Major Team, not to play in Morning League. See, back then there was no minor league Little League like today. If you didn't make Majors you played Morning League, which was one day a week held Saturday mornings.
To me that meant I only got to play Little League one day a week. I wanted to play eight days a week! I wasn’t very good at math back then.
I remember getting the most important news of my life to that point; Manager Bob English of Kings Motel called me and informed me I was on his Major League team. I jumped for joy and said, “Thank you Coach, thank you Coach,” and handed the phone to my Dad. I immediately went out back of my house on Kane Street and went to work on my Johnny Bench Batter Up. Coach English probably could hear that plastic ball hitting my wood bat; he only lived about halfway down Kane Street from my house.
The time came for my first Little League practice. I was your typical eight-year-old. Is it time to go yet? Is it time to go yet? I drove my mom nuts with that question. Finally there I was at practice down on the lower corner field of the Little League complex warming up. Coach Bob English sent me out to second base. My Dad had hit me thousands of fly balls. In the Webb family tradition my Dad anticipated I would be an outfielder. "Run the ball down and gun it in," he would tell me.
I was worried as I ran out to second base. No, I was scared. Didn't want to make a fool of myself. As coach hit ground balls, a funny thing happened; I began to relax and fielded every one. The throwing was easy for me, a short distance to first base. My Dad had practiced me throwing the ball to second, third and home from the outfield.
As infield finished Coach English called me over, with a little smile said to me "Spider" Uh? Coach? “Spider is your nickname, you did good out there like a spider webb around second base."
Coach English gave me a ride home that night; I couldn't wait to tell my Dad the big news! Not about how well I fielded, not about that I played second base and not the outfield. The most important thing that happened at practice, Coach English called me Spider! I got a cool nickname!
I cannot begin to tell you how special those Little League years were. Coach English wouldn't allow you to call him that, it was Coach Bob, Coach or just Bob. I always just called him Coach. His assistants were Coach Dick Whiteman and his sons Jeff and Gary. I especially liked when Jeff was at practice, he would spend extra time with me on hitting. They were the best coaches any Little Leaguer could have. All of us lived on Kane Street; I never needed a ride whether it was Little League or anything else.
Bob as I called him when I was older was a lifetime friend; whenever I would see him his first word was always "Spider.”
He was a great man who spent many years coaching Little Leaguers and being involved in the community. He left us a few years back and I dearly miss him.
I would only see him a couple times a year but when he spoke that magic word – I was back on that diamond, with Little League’s Lamade stadium up the hill in the distance, at my first Little League practice.
Thank you to the English and Whiteman families for making those Little League days so special.
One last Little League story, our rival back then was J&N Auto Parts and their manager Scott Lowery. My last at bat at Little Mountaineer Field was a long fly ball to centerfield in the championship game versus Mr. Lowery and J&N. Bases were loaded, two outs, bottom of the sixth. I believe it was Brian Klotz who caught it back against the centerfield fence. Mr. Lowery had another championship. At the time it mattered to me for about 10 minutes. Bob's words coming off the field "Come on, Spider; let's get an RC and a hotdog." We probably had Humdinger ice cream when we got back to our neighborhood.
I wouldn't trade those Kings Motel days for anything.
I am also proud to have worked my way down Kane Street. Lived at the top in my childhood days. Played speedball and hoops at the St. Lawrence playground and now we do the Webb Weekly at the first building at the foot of Kane. Funny sometimes how life works out.
(Thanks to Steve Keener for sparking my memory for this story. We were recently talking about nicknames and special days during our youth at a Loyalsock baseball game. I will have an article coming up on some of our area’s best nicknames, Mr. Keener possesses one.)