Part One – Walking in Three Worlds
Chapter 5 – Athletic Training, Skills & Opportunities
By Ghost Dancer
My dad first started playing ball with me as soon as I could walk pretty good and from then on I was in for lots of learning. Even after my parents were divorced, my training continued whenever I was with my dad. First he taught me how to catch the ball, then fielding the ball, and then throwing the ball. He always had lots of patience with me and I enjoyed the challenge of learning. From an early age Dad taught me many finer points such as using my body if necessary to block the ball from getting around me, how to position my body to go in any direction at the crack of the bat, and to throw the ball from any angle and position with accuracy. He taught me how to hold and swing the bat for the best results, to watch the ball leave the pitcher’s hand and to time the ball for the perfect swing.
Now I had a huge advantage over most kids my age. Not only did my dad live and breathe baseball and all sports generally, but I was always taller and stronger than my peers and my dad made sure I practiced at least two hours every day. He provided me with lots of equipment and always made time to practice with me. He even bought a special piece of training equipment that had very tight webbing with a strike zone designed in it. Even when I was alone, this allowed me to practice throwing the ball everyday all by myself and get more accuracy using either hand. The net would send the ball back flying to you. or it could even send the ball flying high up in the air to help you practice catching fly balls and learning to judge distances, trajectory and angles. No matter what position anyone plays one thing you have to develop is an instinct for understanding a person’s stance, bat speed, and the type pitch and location so you can always anticipate where the ball will come from. As a pitcher I could manipulate where the batter has to hit the ball – if he was able to hit it!
I spent time every day practicing year around, training my body in strength, hand speed and coordination. Balance is key. Not only was I training for baseball, but for all sports. I played basketball, football, track and field including long-distance cross country running, shot put, discus and javelin. I also trained in yoga and martial arts – judo, karate, aikido, budo, and kick boxing. I worked hard doing all types of manual labor which helped tone and define my muscles and body. Swimming was another favorite of mine and when I was sitting around at night I would constantly be squeezing a hand gripper to strengthen my hands even isolating each finger to strengthen them much more than other folks would consider doing.
My dad not only helped shape my athletic life but supported it in every way. From Pee Wee up through Pony League, Dad even had my team mates come to ball fields and helped us practice as a team. He helped all of them develop their skills at their positions and in batting too. He bought equipment for all of us and we kept it at our house. This way we could fully equip a practice game anytime we wanted to.
During the times I was back in Florida with my mom I would continue to practice. Living in Ocala, I even had the opportunity learn from all the pro baseball players who were there for spring training. These guys were awesome and they always took time to speak and help any kid who wanted to learn or talk to them. Yeah, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to do these things. My step-dad owned a garage and several of these professional baseball players were his customers so I really was lucky to get to meet them one-on-one. When I went to the spring practice fields they would invite me in to meet their team players and here I was actually learning from some of baseball’s greatest hall of fame players.
I could go on and on about who they were but what is important is that these men had hearts of gold to teach kids like me to really become something special like they were. Just so you know, my skills and abilities did not go unnoticed. Even while I was in junior high school, I was highly sought after by colleges and pro team recruiters. Once I was playing at high school level and still performing beyond their understanding or expectations of someone my age, the recruiters really were wanting me to commit to each of them and what they wanted. My dad was my buffer. I would just tell them they needed to talk to him not me.
Now most folks don’t push themselves to truly train but I understood even then that it really takes a strong will, dedication and discipline to work out and train to become the best you can be. So with that in mind remember that I dedicated my life to being a true warrior and athlete to be the best I could be. Training and working out came easy to me. I was born athletic and my body responded naturally to all these things. Genetics and being from a big, strong-bodied people with a strong commitment to compete in almost anything helped a whole lot. I was so fortunate to have had people in my life’s walk that helped shape, guide and influence me.
After I quit school in the tenth grade and set out on my own I worked a regular job but also had a side handy man business for folks who needed something repaired, built, painted, and doing all types of cleanup, landscaping and lawn care. Once I was doing a job for a man whose brother was the assistant defensive coordinator coach for the New Orleans Saints football team. This man was at his brother’s house and they kept watching me work. Finally the two of them came over and he asked if I had ever played football. I told him yes, I played football in junior high and high school. He said he had been watching me and could see that I was very strong, I moved fast and had good balance. As it turned out, his brother had seen me play in school games and called him about me. That was why he was there.
Now at that age I was already 6′ 6” and weighed about 205 lbs., all lean hard muscle. He asked me if I would be interested in going to try out for the New Orleans Saints? What could I say? Yes I would love to do that. He never even asked me my age and yeah, I was under aged, but most folks would never know that. Anyway I went to training camp and actually made the team; they were very excited about having me playing defense for them. Then they called me into the office to talk business and asked if I had an agent and would I sign a contract. But there was a caveat; they said there would be conditions. I would have to cut my hair and I must lose the Native American persona. I always wore my Native regalia – jewelry, and buckskin clothing and moccasins or beaded Native designed shirts. They said that the NFL rules did not allow these things. (Boy, funny how the league has changed over the years isn’t it LOL!) So, I told them thank you but I could not agree or do any of that. I walked out the door and never looked back or contacted them again. Basically the same thing was said and done in baseball as well.
Later on I did play against many NFL All-Stars and Hall of Fame players. This was in the 70s in what was called the “Pig Bowl” in Alabama – the Cops versus the Cons. This was back when I was first incarcerated in the State of Alabama. Every year our Cons team always beat the Cops. They couldn’t have us continuously embarrassing them; it tarnished their image and hurt their propaganda reflections of all prisoners. So they found a way to get around the problem. They would have college and pro football players come in during the off season and for $25 they could become auxiliary police officers. This allowed them to be eligible to play in the game. Didn’t matter, we still beat the pro players.
This game was actually played in Hamilton, Alabama and as far as I know it is still being played every year for charity. I remember one game being filmed and broadcast by ESPN from Las Vegas in the 80’s. Yeah there was lots of gambling involved on this game. You might remember Burt Reynolds in “The Longest Yard.” That movie was based on the Pig Bowl in Alabama though the movie was actually filmed in Reidsville, Ga. at a prison there.
Throughout my 42 years in prison, playing and coaching sports would always be a big part of my life.