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Thursday, December 8th, 2016
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The Game of Softball

Fri, Jun 8th, 2001
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Monday, June 4, 2001

When I was growing up, my brothers and I began our softball season as soon as the grass in our front yard was dry enough to walk on without leaving tracks in the mud. We played softball every spare moment we got throughout the entire summer.

Our enthusiasm for softball was fueled by neighborhood tradition. It was a well-supported community activity. There were 4-H, church, town, and township softball leagues that a boy could play in from the time he could pick up a bat until he was old enough to be a danger to himself. There were no big trophies or college scholarships involved. We played because we liked to play.

Our training regimen involved the basics. We played catch with each other when our work was done and while we waited for dinner and supper. We enlisted anybody that walked on the place to play in our pickup games. Two on two softball games can be quite entertaining. The batter had to be his own catcher. The pitcher was the outfielder and everyone was an umpire. Scoring was usually high. We had to negotiate the outcome when a team managed to get both their men on base at the same time. There was no one left to hit them home so they had to draft an opposing player to bat for them.

Our practice field at home was right outside the front door. The backstop was the house. First base was the first maple tree, third was by the light pole, and second base was somewhere out there in the middle. I dont recall that we ever broke any windows with this haphazard arrangement, but there is evidence that we came close. One time my brother threw an overhand rising fastball that tipped the end of my glove and whacked the house. The dent in the steel siding just under the kitchen window is still there. That got my fathers attention. We were more careful after that.

Training continued at our country school. Every recess and lunch period that was not otherwise scheduled involved a softball game. We didnt have time to pick teams so we just ran out and took a position on the field. There werent enough of us to have competition for any one position and there wasnt enough true athletic talent among us to form any rivalries. We had a pitcher who could get the ball over the plate. We had a third baseman who could get the ball to first. We had a catcher that could eventually find the ball underneath him. Everybody had a place. The place to avoid was right field where almost nothing ever happened. When something did happen in right field, it is likely that the poor right-fielder was napping due to boredom and the ball would sail over his head or hed pick up a grounder and not know where to throw it.

I spent a fair amount of time in right field myself, but I finally managed to earn a spot at first base for our 4-H team. I played that position for several seasons. My overall performance was average. I was the biggest target available and I could catch almost anything that came my way. I was not so great at the plate and our volunteer coach used to say that he needed a calendar to time me as I ran the bases. I recall that the last game of my 4-H career contained both my best and worst moments. It was the night I was both the hero and the horses behind.

It was Haverhill versus Dresser Valley in the playoffs. I was at first base for Haverhill with the bases loaded in the fifth. Tie game. Two outs. The batter popped one up high behind first base into shallow right field. I knew that our right fielder was never going to reach it so I chased after it and caught it blind on the run over my left shoulder. It was a great catch that even brought a comment of admiration from the Dresser Valley coach. I was the hero.

Then it was the last inning. We were down by one run. Runners at second and third with two out. I was up to bat and watched two balls go by. The coach signaled me to bunt, or I thought that he had. Or maybe he hadnt. Anyway, I was never any good at bunting and I thought there was no way I was going to lay down a good bunt off this pitcher. I hit away and grounded out and we lost the game and the season was over. I was the horses behind.

If it hadnt been for softball, my life on the farm in the summer would have been little other than hay baling and corn cultivating. It still amazes me that my teammates and I could have put so much energy into softball after the kind of farm work schedules we maintained. We loved the game. We also loved some of the social aspects that came with it, but thats another story.

By Wayne Pike

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