The Season of Sports continues…
By Doug Elwell
No one noticed it at first, but when Ollie Baker planted his corn that spring he left a fair sized corner of the field fallow. It was the field that sat on a clear line that marked the end of Pinhook and the beginning of not Pinhook—Reel Street. One day a backstop appeared. A few days later there were bases and a home plate. One night a pitcher’s mound rose out of the ground like a blister on a heel. Then nothing. It sat there unused tempting us like Eve tempted Adam with the apple. One day no one said a word. We just walked onto that field and started playing baseball. It was our field of dreams decades before the movie. I was eight that summer.
Days later on a Sunday Reverend Whompus announced from the pulpit the formation of a little league team. All interested boys were to sign up on the sheet at the back of the church and meet on the lawn at the parsonage on Wednesday. Evidently the bait succeeded because about twenty of us showed up. I had only a vague idea of baseball. It seemed simple enough so I went to the meeting on Wednesday. Reverend Whompus was going to be our coach. He took our names and phone numbers then handed out a schedule. We would be playing other nearby towns in a couple weeks. Each of us was to get a glove and a bat. He would supply the balls.
My mother was a diehard Cubs fan and was so pleased that I wanted to join the team she took my schedule and taped it onto the refrigerator. I don’t think anyone had come up with the idea of refrigerator magnets yet. I think she had visions of her future listening to the Cubs on the radio while she did her ironing and hearing them announce my stepping up to the plate in Wrigley Field.
We drove over to Terre Haute to get me fitted with a bat and a glove at Root’s Department Store. Immediately I ran into my first obstacle on my way to Cooperstown. I was and still am a lefty and gloves for the right hand were almost a custom item in those days. There were none to be had. The clerk suggested I learn to catch with my left hand and quickly slip the glove off and throw the man out as he slid home in the dust. It took a while, but I got quite proficient at that and could catch, pull my glove off and throw the ball in only a few seconds.
Jimmy Hammel was our pitcher. Jimmy was always throwing things. He threw whatever he could get his hands on. Pebbles, clods of dirt, any kind of ball, wads of paper, anything he could pick up, he would throw. He had done this his whole life and it showed in the strength and accuracy of his arm. He hit me in the head with a large pebble from fifty feet once and left a small scar right here above the hair line. It was an accident, I think, but he was so scared I would tell on him, he ran into the house and brought out a wet washcloth to stanch the bleeding. But there was the evidence of the blood soaked rag to dispose of. He ended up throwing it in his neighbor’s well. I never took another drink from that well.
Coach Whompus and I realized early on the one skill I had, baseball wise, was hitting. But that was the only skill I brought to the game. Fielding a ball and throwing quickly enough to get a runner out at a base was problematic at best. As quickly as I could throw off my glove and get the ball into my left hand to throw a man out simply wasn’t fast enough. So he made the best decision he could. I was put out in left field since very few of our opponents could hit a ball that far and if one did, I might catch it on the fly. But if it was on the bounce and I had to throw in, I was at a distinct disadvantage. My dad knew less about baseball than I but even he knew I belonged in left field. He often looked at mom and said, “That boy is out in left field.”
We were in the middle of a tie game one day. I was at my post in left field and I had to pee. I was hoping the inning would end soon, but the man at bat was a timid soul and Jimmy was off his game that day. The batter swung half-heartedly at pitch after pitch—all foul balls and no strikes. My sense of urgency was building. I waved at Coach Whompus but he didn’t see me. Mom did though. She smiled and waved back and even gave me a thumbs up. My urgency was approaching a critical level. Finally I put my glove down and stepped into the corn field behind me to relieve myself. While I was standing there I heard the crack of the bat and a roar rose up from the stands, actually a smattering of wooden benches and a couple lawn chairs. I finished as quickly as I could and ran back onto the field to retrieve my glove as the batter rounded third for home. I had no idea where the ball landed.
Kids do things like that I guess. That turned out to be my one and only baseball season. I had a few hits and RBI’s, but of course offense is only half of the game. For the other half, any potential I might have had was never realized for lack of a right handed glove and being fully housebroken.
I played at junior high basketball but lacked enough coordination to dribble a ball down the court by myself, let alone through a persistent defense. I played football in high school all four years. That was my best sport. But even there, I was too tentative. I didn’t want to hit anyone and I didn’t want to get hit. One can get hurt doing things like hitting and being hit and knocked down. I did manage to score one touchdown in my senior year. It was on a pass unerringly thrown by Jimmy Hammel.
© 2015 Doug Elwell. Doug Elwell writes short stories and memoir that feature characters, lore and culture of the rural Midwest. His work has occasionally appeared in his home town newspaper, The Oakland Independent, two editions of Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource and Midwestern Gothic. He can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.