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Superstars of Childhood

A vivid imagination creates backyard heroes

The kid next door was making me mad.

I had just settled in with a good book when my young neighbor began his assault on my concentration. He was screeching at the top of his 8-year-old lungs, alternating between what sounded like complete gibberish and something like a banshee screaming.

No one had, at that point a number of years ago, accused me of being a grumpy old man, but maybe this was the beginning of early onset. Or maybe I’d had too much coffee. I stomped toward the window that looked out on my neighbors’ backyard and yanked back the curtain, preparing to give that boy a good glaring.

What I saw turned his screaming into sweet soul music.

What that boy was doing was winning himself a major golf tournament. He was decked out in his Sunday best, particularly appropriate because it was Sunday, and teeing off with a plastic golf club and plastic ball. He looked like a real golfer as he stood over the ball and waggled his club a few times. Then he hauled off and hit his drive about 20 feet, from one end of his backyard to the other. His pet beagle seemed to serve as caddy, or perhaps as the gallery.

“A mighty blast!” the kid shrieked, imitating, I knew now, a TV sports announcer. “Look at the ball go! Holy cow!”

The gallery, whose sound effects my neighbor also handled, broke into a wild fit of cheering and whistling. The beagle bounded toward the ball and wagged its tail, awaiting the next shot, which ended about 2 feet away from the outdoor faucet.

“Holy cow! Did you see that! Why, that ball must have traveled 200 feet! And it went right in the hole! Wow! That was the greatest shot ever made in the history of the world! Don’t you agree, Dick?”

“Yes, I do. That was the greatest shot anybody ever made. No doubt about it.”

Then the plot thickened.

“OK, folks. It’s going to take a hole-in-one from Tiger Woods on this difficult par-5 to force a playoff because Billy just hit the greatest shot ever in the history of the world. People are going to be talking about that one for a long time.”

Tiger Woods teed off and hit the ball all the way to the backyard gate. “Good gosh o’mighty! Did you see how Tiger skipped that ball to where it just kept going? Wow! It’s in the hole! Holy cow! It’s a hole-in-one! We have a playoff!”

The kid beat Tiger with a hole-in-one on the first playoff hole, a shot so mighty, so awesome, that Tiger Woods gave up and conceded the match on the spot.

“Woo-hoo! Billy wins! Woo-woo! Yay!” He picked up the beagle’s supper dish and hoisted it high above his head, transforming it into a trophy that signified our Billy was “the new golf champion of the world!” The beagle took a special interest in the trophy and began barking at Billy. The champ patted the dog on the head and gave the dog his autograph but not the supper dish because he wanted to hold it while the TV announcer interviewed him.

“Yes, Dick, I think I played a great round. A great tournament, actually. Everything I hit went into the hole. I think I’ve got my game about where I want it, you know?”

The back door opened and reality intruded. “Billy,” his mother said, “quit teasing that dog. Give him back his bowl.”

“Aw, Mom, it doesn’t even have any food in it.”

With the tournament over and the trophy relinquished, I went back to reading —but didn’t get very far.

“Here’s the wind-up and the pitch … it’s a home run! Holy cow, sports fans, did you see that? I did! That was a grand slam home run! To win the game! In the bottom of the ninth! Yeah! In game seven of the World Series! Listen to that crowd! Yaaaaaay! Billy wins it! Again! Yaaaaay!”

By that time I realized that my little neighbor had taken my place as the greatest athlete who ever lived. Growing up in Lubbock, I had constant access to a vacant lot where I hit any number of game-winning home runs, pitched a few dozen no-hitters and scored hundreds of touchdowns for various teams, usually in the context of a state, national or world championship.

Man, I was something.

As for my young neighbor, I hope he went on to win a lot of real-world golf tournaments and hit a lot of genuine home runs. Whether he did or not, I hope he has a chance someday to look out his window and spy on the next generation’s superstar of childhood.

And I hope it makes him as happy as his Sunday afternoon heroics made me.

Clay Coppedge, a member of Bartlett EC, lives near Walburg.