Sunday, April 28, 2019

The last baseball game

Generally speaking, there are two times each year when the game of baseball might be focused on.  First is at the beginning of the year when hopes are that the Mets might have a good team.  The second is in the fall playoffs, especially if a favorite has evolved into contention.  Barely hanging onto this first period now, thoughts about baseball while pretending to sleep led to a memory of my last participation in organized baseball, with uniforms, umpires, and people in the stands, such that they were.

That was 1961, in a game between the Little League all stars of the north side and south side of town, as determined by a river.  The game was played at a field somewhere on the north side that was well maintained and had bleachers that were permanent.  Representing the south side, I was the lone participant from my team, Jaycees.  In the minor leagues, third and fourth grades, of my year we had been in contention.  At the next level, fifth and sixth grades,  we had been second tier, meaning we won some games but never against the best teams.

My positions varied.  In minor leagues it was either pitcher or first baseman.  In the majors, it was pitcher or right field.  As a pitcher, my strong point was varying the speed of the pitch.  In little kid terms, I threw the ball hard enough but was no Don Drysdale.  As a first baseman, understanding the game was important so I was not bad.  As a right fielder I was dismal.  How do you pay attention out there?

I was not a starter in my last game.  As it progressed we were losing and my value was questionable.  Our pitchers were not doing that well, so one of the coaches, Buddy's father I think, took me out along the sidelines in the shadows above first base for a warm up of sorts.  He exhorted me to throw it hard, but in that near dark area I was afraid that he would not be able to see it so I held back.  Looking back it is easy to see how laughable that was.  I did not enter the game as a pitcher.

The game came down to the final possible out.  We still had a chance but were maybe two or three runs down. I was the only player that had not yet played for the team so the coaches did what they felt was the right thing to do, and it was the last thing that I wanted.  They put me in to pinch hit.  The pitcher was throwing the ball harder than anything I had ever faced.  Had he been held back.  My only goal was to get my bat on the ball in any way possible.  I fouled the ball once almost directly right before striking out.

Organized baseball career over.  I did play successfully in an informal softball league in 1970's Louisville, having learned to love playing left field, looking forward to any chance.  And for some reason I had turned into a left handed hitter with some power.  What an American game.


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