Okay, what you're about to read has been blatantly, willfully, and unrepentantly stolen from Viva El Birdos. Why? Because of the great stories and eeriely-similar developmental paths of Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron [ Happy Birthday, Hammer! ], and... the Next Big Thing: Oscar Taveras. Here's the story, with some emphasis added (original link on VivaElBirdos here) - and I'll just get out of the way... very interesting:
"Stan Musial grew up in Donora, Pennsylvania, a town of about 7,500. It was a steel-mill town and Musial's father made his living in the mills. Musial and his friends didn't have baseball's growing up so Mrs. Musial made them. She wound a ball of yard and used black tape for the stitching. However, Musial wasn't always fortunate enough to play with a homemade baseball while growing up. As Musial discussed during a 2002 Hall-of-Fame interview, he and his brother would hit bottle caps.
"We had some bottle caps and broomsticks. Of course, my brother would pitch, ya know. With a bottle cap, you can make it move and curve and swing around and, of course, trying to hit that bottle cap is quite a feat."
"Roberto Clemente hailed from Carolina, Puerto Rico, just east of the capital San Juan. Like Musial, Clemente and his brothers did not have the opportunity to play with a real baseball. Like Musial and his brother, the Clemente brothers used bottle caps. As H.R. 4831, which renamed a Chicago post office for Clemente, recounts:
"Cane sugar workers in Puerto Rico lived a very humble life and a life of poverty. Roberto began playing baseball like many of his contemporaries did, doing batting practice with a broken broomstick hitting bottle caps. He said that, after swinging hundreds of times at bottle caps, a baseball looked as big as a coconut."
"Henry Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama and grew up in a poor part of the greater metro area. The excellent SABR biography on Aaron by Bill Johnson explains:
"Henry was born, and the Aarons lived, in a poorer neighborhood of Mobile called "Down the Bay," but he spent most of his formative years in the nearby district of Toulminville. The Aaron family lived on the edge of poverty, in part due to the general economic conditions of the Great Depression, so every member of the family worked to contribute. Young Henry picked cotton, among other odd jobs, and while his parents could not afford proper baseball equipment for recreation, Aaron was able to practice in endless sandlot games and by hitting bottle caps with ordinary broom handles and sticks."
"Oscar Taveras hails from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. Last spring, a profile on Taveras penned by Derrick Goold ran in St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A passage chronicles Taveras' childhood baseball activities:"
"As a kid, Taveras would play a game that involved taking the cap off water jugs and trying to hit it when it was pitched like a tightly spinning and veering Frisbee. His dad, who played pro ball, could pitch corn kernels to him. They fastened a tire to a fench. and Taveras whaled away on it to hone and strengthen his swing. Sometimes he'd use a tee, moving the location of the ball around to improve his plate coverage."