The Hitting Pitcher

August 21, 2018

Nostalgia got me again somewhere between the soap and the rinse during my daily dip last Wednesday . . . I started reminiscing about the past (come to think of it, reminiscing can only be about the past, right?). In my daydreams I was back playing softball back in our Hawai’i days.

During the 1980s while living in the Islands, a bunch of us guys from the missionary training base decided to form a softball team and compete in a local league. The game was Slow-pitch, or as some called it, Mountainball, wherein the pitcher throws the softball to the batter underhand, and as high as he likes—so long as the ball passes through the normal strike zone on its descent.

Our team was comprised of some Samoan hefties, a couple of local lefties including a Japanese-Hawaiian guy who could hit a ton. These, plus a handful of us haoles rounded out the team (haoles are generally speaking, those of European descent; i.e. white folk).

Our playing manager was Dave—my good friend—but with whom to this day I still have a beef (more on that later).

I was the pitcher (too slow to be a fielder), and I’ll never forget our first game; there were lots of friends and family watching. Out we trotted in our brand-spanking-new uniforms, looking pretty cool, we thought. Top of the first, me on the mound and ready to deliver the first pitch. I reared back and let it go; high and true it sailed, headed right into the strike zone.

I was standing there admiring it, when whap! a single past our shortstop. Next batter; clang! (an aluminum bat), another single. And then whack! one more single. Bases loaded, nobody out.

incredible-hulk-2511069_1280A sprinkling of laughter was heard from our opponents’ dugout. This was not funny for us, because the next batter was Sipo, and we all knew of his reputation as a slugger. Sipo was Samoan, and his size compared favourably to that of The Hulk.

He stomped up to the plate with muscles rippling, and took a couple of practice swings; I could feel the breeze of those whiffs from my position on the mound, 40 feet away! Then he set himself up for the first pitch, glaring ominously at the pitcher; me. Every last drop of any confidence I might have had, drained away. My legs were shaking, my arms were shaking . . . okay, I was an all-over, wobbly mass of quivering yellow jello, paralyzed by the thought of tossing a ball toward this guy.

Finally, I wound up and pitched, and amazingly it looked like it would be another beautiful strike. Evidently, Sipo thought so too. At this point, I must explain that our field of play was a huge green grassy area, with four ball diamonds—one in each corner—lit up at night, all right next to the unused runway of the old airport. Our diamond was the furthest from the runway.

So my pitch is on its way, all our fielders are leaning forward on their toes and ready to play the ball in case it is hit in their direction. They never get a chance. Sipo, poised and ready, sees what look like a beach ball slowly descending toward him. With a mighty swing, he blasts that ball high up in the air toward left field . . . over the leftfielder’s head . . . way over his head . . . and then over the next diamond. It finally stops rolling on the runway. Home run of course. After four batters, score 4-0, nobody out.

We never recovered. I can’t remember the final score of that game, but surprisingly we kept showing up each week until the season was over. I think we won one game. In the following years we did better, and all-in-all we enjoyed the experience, making new friends among the other teams. But that first game is sharply etched on our memories!

Oh yes, my beef with Manager Dave. As in the National Baseball League, the the softball pitcher has to take his turn at bat. And following normal custom, Dave placed me the pitcher, last in the batting order—he wanted the big hitters to bat first. Trouble was, even though our big guys would hit occasional home runs, they struck out a lot. Me, I could only hit singles to right field (which was an indication of my ‘slow’ bat); by the time I would get to the plate, there was nobody on base, so my hitting was wasted.

I pleaded with Dave to move me up earlier in the batting order so when someone was on base, I could knock in some runs with my puny singles. But despite my .600+ batting average (that means I got on base six times out of ten), Dave would not budge. I have forgiven him for his stubbornness, but it seems as though I can’t forget! We still laugh about it.

Just think, I might have been remembered as having the highest batting average in all of baseball and softball history; but because I was buried at the bottom of the batting order, it all went for naught. My brilliant batting record is forgotten and lost for all time.

In his best season, Ted Williams, historically the best-ever professional batter, got on base only four times out of ten and he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Who knows? I might have made it into that hallowed Hall.

But we’ll just have to keep that thought on hold.

Till next time,

P. Michael Jordan

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