Great Moments In Baseball
If you were thinking this blog might have anything to do with major league, sorry to disappoint you. It’s not even about minor or bush league. More like inconsequential shoestring type baseball for personal entertainment purposes only.
I LOVED baseball as a kid. At SS#1 Aaron (our little one room schoolhouse) I played it (or reasonable facsimiles of it) for 8 years straight. When I was six in grade one, the bigger kids would let me play fielder. I would do that for the entire game, happy as a lark to go chasing balls, especially if it meant having to climb over a fence. I could never throw worth shit, but I could run fast, and hand the ball over happily for a smile and a pat on the head.
There is something very satisfying about swinging a bat, connecting with the ball and sending it soaring. I did get to be very good at that part of the game. Our diamond consisted of a woodshed as backstop and blocks of wood for bases. The blocks were supposed to be sunk down flush with the dirt, but there were always edges high enough to trip over. Skinned knees were common, and no one ever considered sliding. There was a huge tree right behind second base, so that became a very popular position to play if you liked to be in the shade. It also stopped a lot of home runs with it’s trunk and branches. We picked team captains and new teams every day, and each team had to rotate every position with every inning. You went from pitcher to catcher, around the bases including short stop, and then to the outfield if there were enough people on your team. Usually we were happy if each team had at least a complete infield. If there weren’t enough kids to make up teams, we played with two batters, and whoever was responsible for an out got to change positions with that batter. It was soon apparent where you played well, and where you sucked. Surprisingly enough, I was a pretty good pitcher until I got all self conscious about it, and as long as I kept my mind on the game the ball would go over the plate. If my mind was wandering I could demonstrate a whole new meaning for the term ‘wild pitch’. A few times we accepted challenges from other small schools and took our ‘best’ team to a competition. We had good sportsmanship drilled into us by our teachers, and those lessons were very helpful, because invariably the scores would be ridiculously lopsided, one way or the other.
I remember all of us being passionate about playing baseball every recess and lunch break every day of the week while the weather permitted. And even when it didn’t. We played in drizzle and fog and once in lightning. (The teacher was inside and didn’t notice, or I’m sure she would have put a stop to that one.) We played when the base lines were dusty, and we played when they turned to mud. We fought over balls and strikes, safes and outs, and even the score, since an umpire and a score keeper were unheard of in our day-to-day games. It was my mom who suggested we keep right on playing all summer by joining a league.
It didn’t take a lot of persuasion, and my sister and I decided to join a girl’s team where we went to practices and took instruction from an actual coach, and where we would compete against 4 other small town teams. It was an amazing experience for both of us, playing with people who knew what they were doing and were good at it. It was a no brainer that Ann would make the team because she was good in whatever position she played, and I made it based solely on my ability to hit and run. My fielding was pathetic. She mostly played short stop. I always got right field, behind a great first baseman and beside an excellent center fielder who could cover my ass. I don’t remember a lot about those games except for hitting some home runs and always getting on base. I was patient waiting for the perfect pitch, and took a lot of walks. Ann swung at everything and mostly connected, but also had some colossal strike outs. When that happened she would always come back mad and swinging and hit it out of the park. I couldn’t catch a fly ball if my life depended on it. Once I even pulled my glove back at the last second and let the ball drop at my feet. When the coach asked me what the hell I was doing, I told him I had a panic attack. He didn’t think that was funny. I chased a lot of balls, and stopped a lot of grounders, but I was only ever able to throw them to a cut-off person. It didn’t seem to matter how much I practiced, or how hard I tried. I should have been a pinch hitter, but they didn’t have those in our games.
One night we were playing a crucial game that we really needed to win. The game went back and forth, the score up and down, until we were leading by a run in the bottom of the ninth. We got the first two outs, high fly balls to the infield and to left field and I was almost starting to relax. Then there was a base hit and a runner on second. The next up to bat was a girl who consistently hit line drives into right field. I wanted to puke. I could see my team mates glancing in my direction. They probably all wanted to puke too. It plays like a little mini video in my head. First pitch – strike one. YES!! Kick the dirt, take a deep breath, get into position, pray. Second pitch, strike two. ALRIGHT!! You can’t cross your fingers inside a ball glove, you moron. Please please please if there is a God, don’t let her hit that stupid ball to me. Third pitch – THWACK – a line drive right at me, but ohmygod, so high. FUCK!! I swear there was a collective sigh from the rest of my team, and my heart dropped down to my knees at the thought of letting them all down. They’d all gather around and say comforting stuff, like good try, that one was gone, don’t worry about it. And I’d want to bawl. So I gritted my teeth and decided to at least make it look good, at least leave the ground and get my arm and my glove up there – reach goddamit…..jesusfuckshit…..and then SMACK – the ball hit my glove and nearly knocked me over backwards. The silence was deafening. And then the screaming began. I will never ever again be the sports hero that I was that night. If they could have hoisted me on their shoulders and drenched me with champagne I think they would have done it, but that would not have made the moment any more mind-blowing. No home run before or since ever felt so good, and the rest of my baseball memories pale in comparison. Of course nobody remembers it but me, but it doesn’t matter.
The ladies team I joined in Inuvik consisted of a bunch of bored housewives with varying degrees of talent. We all went to tryouts where we had to run laps around a gym. What a pathetic out of shape bunch. Half of us ended up lying on the floor red-faced and gasping for breath. The coaches, who were CFS guys who picked the team, made the mistake of overlooking a couple of ladies who were very talented. These girls were also not all that good-looking, and both of them were over weight. There was a lot of discussion amongst us about that – we had a couple of hot chicks on our team that couldn’t even swing a bat. Both the rejected girls joined another team, so we let it go. But every time we played against them, we pointed out to our coaches how they really missed the boat on those two. So maybe I was chosen for my beauty. HAHAHAHA!!
Seriously, I don’t think so. Of course it was my superior ability and my obvious dedication and my complete lack of sarcasm that made me stand out. Great uniform, hey? I’m wearing long underwear under that, and two pairs of socks and a turtle neck. We played in some darn cold weather. So cold that we sometimes wore our parkas on the bench. So cold that we couldn’t take this picture outside I guess. My house is a complete disaster, because what athlete has time to tidy up? Notice the incredibly ugly macrame thing hanging on my wall. I made it myself.
So, anyway, back to baseball. The first year we played we came in first over all. I think there were three or four other teams. Maybe four in all, but I don’t remember. The things I do remember are how crazy competitive the coaches were, how they kept everyone’s stats, and how they begged us not to bring our kids to the games and sit them on our bench. Sorry guys, sometimes a babysitter is hard to find. We called ourselves the Snowbirds. The first year we had all kinds of fans. The second year we found out that everybody hates a winner, and we were the team that everyone LOVED to beat. It kind of got us down after a while, especially when we played the team that consisted of all native women. We were all white. The other teams were mixed up, so our two teams kind of stood out, and created the biggest rivalry. The all native team had a pitcher who was crazy as a loon. She screamed and yelled and swore for the entire game, but mostly while she was on the mound. It was a bit disconcerting to be called a whore by the pitcher while you were up to bat. We thought there should probably be a rule against that kind of thing, but she could really draw a crowd. Those girls were better players than we were, and they were positively jubilant when they took the final deciding game. We were scared to death to shake their hands. Well, hers anyway. The rest of them were an okay bunch.
My sister went on to play baseball in a lady’s league for years. She was a star on “Bert’s Beanery”. There was no actual Bert’s Beanery, it was just a name they all liked. Her husband played in a league as well, and then coached, and two of their kids were serious baseball players. My nephew played on a team that won All Ontario championships two years in a row.
My illustrious career ended in Inuvik, and neither of my kids ever showed much of an interest in the game, although they both have vague memories of sitting behind a wire mesh waiting to go home. We took them to a Blue Jays game at Skydome once and they were bored out of their minds.
Maybe one of my grandkids will take up baseball, you never know. If they do, I’ll be their biggest fan.