We practiced on a dusty field on the north side of St. Louis at the Herbert Hoover Boys Club. It was the mid ‘70s, and we were a mismatched collection of baseball players, some tall and lanky, like me, and others short and stocky. Some of us were talented. Others, like me, were playing for the fun of it and because it was expected that a 12- and 13-year-old would play some sort of sport. We all imitated the players we idolized on the St. Louis Cardinals, who once played in Sportsman’s Park on the grounds where the boys club now stood.
And Clarence Pearson, a St. Louis public schools gym teacher, held court with this impressionable group. He ruled with an iron fist, a disciplinarian from the old school who also could dole out fatherly advice and life lessons to players whose homes often included a mother and siblings, but sometimes not a father.
Mr. Pearson – he was always known that way – drilled us on fundamentals. Keep your head down on the ball when fielding. Run out infield grounders in case the throw is off line to first base. Always shake the other team players’ hands when the games end. Sportsmanship shows the measure of a player’s character, Mr. Pearson would say.
Although he was our coach, Mr. Pearson would also frequently ask about home or school. If you needed a few dollars to buy something constructive (lunch money, a gift for your mother et al), Mr. Pearson would dig into his pocket to fish out whatever you needed. If you wanted candy, you were better off not asking him for that change.
And, being teen boys, we would often roll our eyes when Mr. Pearson was preaching about etiquette and how to act off the field.
We didn’t realize that Mr. Pearson was giving all of us important life lessons or reinforcing lessons we were already learning at home.
Mr. Pearson, you can rest assured, those lessons stuck.
Managing Editor, The Memphis Commercial Appeal