Ah, yes, my glorious days as a Colt League player. Not to brag, but I was probably the 15th best player…on a team of 12. Unless you count game nights, where the lineup might dwindle to 8, if we were lucky. At which point we would troop over to Mark M’s house and drag him away from the dinner table so we could field a complete team. Those nights actually boosted my spirits, as I was then the ninth best player on the team.
The gun? Just for show.
Who’d have trusted this group with live ammo?
Feeling masochistic? Here is Part One
And so, with all these strikes [literally] against us, you might be thinking that this will evolve into a story of personal redemption, of rising up against the odds to turn around a lost season.
You would be wrong.
If anything, we got worse.
But it’s not as if we stood around and let shame and failure wash over us.
Oh, no. We proactively degenerated.
We replaced DD with a person who was actually old enough to drive. And then some.
MB took the helm, with the help of DD’s father, who probably felt it was time to lift his son out of a deep, dark depression that can only affect kids who have no negotiating power, no money to sign up available kids who could actually hit and catch, and no hope of ever living down the Al H Moonshot.
MB…he knew his baseball, and he knew how to buy boxes of stale Bazooka bubble gum, but he really didn’t know A. how truly bad we were B. how to bail from an experience that might just drop him into the dumpster fire-on-the-diamond. [He might have considered a move to Siberia, but even there, the Tass news agency might track him down and reveal his humiliation. Those were Cold War years, you see, and all diplomatic bets were off.]
Back to the misery.
Under the guidance of MB**, we continued the losing ways of a team that wrestled MM from the safety and comfort of his dinner table so we could field an entire team. He would later claim that we were better off with eight guys and an empty right field than nine guys with him fixated on the roast beef and mashed potatoes he was dragged from.
And then, there was me. One otherwise pleasant afternoon, I was still reveling from the game before when my only base hit of the season brought in the winning run–we interrupt this paragraph for our inaugural episode of TRUTH IN FICTION!–Truth: He did get a base hit. Fiction: It was a feeble opposite-field single that did not move one base runner closer to scoring, other than himself.–we now return you to our regularly scheduled venture into fantasyland.–
I stood on third base. I represented our last chance to creep within ten runs of the other team. And with a full count on our batter, I was ready to sprint for home on the next pitch. Even I knew that if the pitcher threw a strike, the inning would be over so no problem with my being off base. And the whole world knew the batter wouldn’t make contact, so I was good there too. And if the pitcher threw a ball, well, the batter casually trots to first base. How could I lose?
Welllll, baseball folks know the answer to that. There are multiple answers, actually.
- The teammate actually might make contact.
- The teammate might swing and lose his grip on the bat. [More probable.]
- The pitcher might throw a ball, in which case, there are still two outs and I would be a sitting duck.
- The teammate will take a called third strike…
If you guessed #4, congrats. Oh, did I fail to mention–there was actually just one out. So, strike three on the batter meant two outs. And Mr. Clueless on third base still ran for home. The catcher saw me coming and stood, no doubt dumbfounded, and waited…for the easiest double-play in the history of America’s National Pastime.
Looking back, I’m thinking that one play–that singular moment of baserunning ignorance– might have turned the tide against baseball’s immense popularity and vaulted football to where it is today.
You’re welcome, NFL millionaires.
To be continued. Honest, I’ll wrap up tomorrow.
**[You’ll notice I’m doing my best to hide these people’s true identities. I figure the summer of ‘70 offered enough pain and embarrassment. No need to salt their wounds any further.]
To be continued.
We were a formidable collection of athletes–pole vaulter, sprinter, hurdler, shot putter, discus thrower. Versatile. Dedicated.
One problem: All us tracksters comprised a large part of our summer of ‘70 Colt League baseball team.
But we had DD at the helm. With a solid working knowledge of baseball and successful experiences as a player.
Another problem: He was a half year younger than most of us.
And so begins the saga of one of my favorite athletic endeavors in my storied [in my head, not yours] sports career.
Game 1: A gorgeous sparkling late Friday afternoon in early June. [Not to worry. I won’t be detailing every game. I’m no sadist.] Al H, opposing first baseman whose right leg dwarfed our shortstop, stepped to the plate and launched a pitch from DD [yes, our ‘manager’ was our opening day pitcher] deep. And that was the last we saw of our center fielder Eric. When authorities arrived, they first talked to the guy sculpting stacks of cut lawn with his feet. Me. Seems I was the last person to actually see Eric.
The bat-to-ball impact intensity [Equation: b2bI=d2n]
blocked out the sun instantly. Some of my teammates took that as a cue to bolt from the field. DD rounded them up and marched them back before the sun returned.
“It all happened so fast. Al H sent that moonshot toward Big Sur. Eric and I looked at each other. I shrugged. He took off, the wind took his hat, and that was it.”
“Didn’t you even get in position for a relay throw?” asked the cop.
“I was the one who yelled for someone to call missing persons.”
Disgusted at my lack of baseball acumen [or the fact that I had settled back into my ready stance], the cop shook his head.
Fickle fans. But I wasn’t going to buckle. “Hey, I’m a shot putter! I’m not expected to know how to play baseball!”
Meanwhile, at least five runs scored on the Al H missile launch. As memory serves.
And we had switched pitchers. Twice. Yes, folks, a loooong home run.
The authorities left.
“Let’s play some baseball!” shouted the ump.
Clearly, he had never watched one of our practices.
What he envisioned as ‘baseball’ was nowhere near what we flailed away at.
At one of our early attempts to organize and hone our skills, Eric [before his tragic disappearance] and I stood in the outfield and watched as DD tried to clarify with a few of our track athletes one of the finer points of baserunning…or the steal signal…or dating Sally. Something like that.
Anyway, I looked over to Eric. “What we have here,” I said, summoning a line from Cool Hand Luke, “is a failure to communicate.”
Eric looked back. “What we have here…is a failure.” **
So, sure we had communication issues. And we weren’t all that sharp in the field. But by god, you put a bat in our hands and our ineptness really shined through.
So consistently piddly at the plate, in fact, that pitchers threw three no-hitters at us. Consecutive no-hitters. That, baseball fans, is 27 straight innings without a hit. Riveting entertainment, doubtless.
Undeterred, however, we actually won the last of the three.
How do you do that? To this day, I’m not quite sure, but credit our pitcher, Steve V, for keeping the other team’s hitters at bay…and us–utterly stupefied–in a position to win a game.
**Bravo, Eric. It’s been over four decades and your classic line remains ingrained in my memory. I hear rumors that–years later–you actually did find your way back to your family and fashioned a very successful life. Good for you. I still have your hat, by the way.
To be continued.
More from the 500-Word Challenge…
Well, Jeff Goins has suggested we write about hope, as in, “I hope I have something to write about.”
People often suggest regaling readers with images of the past.
But why would I want to write about the days in the ‘hood’?
Who wants to read about the halcyon days of the 60’s when our Chestnut Street and California Street intersection would be so quiet at night that Jimmy T and I could hang our heads out our upstairs windows and, from 50 yards away, hold a conversation without raising our voices. We just let the quiet of the night carry our words from one house to another.
And there really is no reason to share the ecstasy and the agony of my first Little League base hit. I remember making clean contact, pulling the ball to right field and standing there in disbelief that it was A. in fair territory and B. whistling past the second baseman. As I said, ecstasy. Perhaps I soaked in that moment just a bit too long, as the right fielder promptly picked up the ball and threw me out at first base. Let me take a moment to ask: Shouldn’t that kid have been coached to automatically throw the ball to his teammate at second to make sure I didn’t take the extra base? [Assuming I would actually reach first base.] In essence, then, it’s all his fault that I suffered the humiliation of being thrown out at first from the outfield.
But again, that’s not even worth writing about.
Still on baseball which, unlike today, was the number one sport in the U.S.
We lived on the fields behind Lincoln School. Pick-up games were the order of the day and it was generally the same 12-15 kids. With five to seven kids per team, we had to make in-game adjustments. We would ‘close off’ parts of the outfield, depending on if the hitter was right-handed or left handed. We might leave out an infielder. But one game feature we insisted upon: the fence. We had to have an outfield fence. Home runs that sent some poor sap off to Maple Street or the blacktop just didn’t carry the same cache as a ball that cleared a barrier.
So, what were we to do? We weren’t about to set up wooden boards or something even equally inconvenient. Instead, we lined up enough of our Schwinns, front-wheel-to-back-wheel until we had our fence. Easy to shift and sturdy enough to take a few shots to the spokes, pedals, and chains. If the ball was flying out that day, shifting this fence was a matter of kickstand up, roll 20 more feet away from home plate, kickstand down, and ‘play ball!’. And when the ball flew well past that chain of bikes, we might as well have been hitting towering shots over the deepest spot in Candlestick Park.
But, the struggle to dig up meaningful enough content continues.
No need to bore readers with reflections on the Monopoly tournaments that ruled the neighborhood in mid-July. The blue and yellow and green cash filled the air whenever owners of Baltic and Mediterranean landed on Boardwalk or Park Place. Not a pretty sight.
And finally, I see no reason to revisit our adventures around the Lincoln School cafeteria to poke our heads in to watch the folks square-dancing. After all, any thing or place on the forbidden list was just what the doctor ordered for kids without the cash for trips to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or evenings at the movies. Instead, we patrolled the playground and rattle those tetherball chains till the poor custodian stormed out to chase us off.
Now that was entertainment.
Well, seems I’ve at least entertained myself. So that’s something.
Your cards and letters begging me to stop writing? Keep’em coming.