I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas where the great quintet of life is God, guns, pickups, liquor, and football and the order depends on who’s on the other end of the conversation. It’s a place where churches cover the picture of doves in their stained glass windows during hunting season, and where high school football is king of sports. It doesn’t matter how bad your local team is, it’s king of the city. My hometown team was terrible. We won four games in my three years in the high school. Our basketball team won two state titles and no one noticed. The baseball team was sporadically good, the track team did OK in some events, lousy in others. None of it mattered because football was king. With a single touchdown and a missed extra point, the year after I graduated the team scored six points all season (Geez, I scored more often than that with the ladies and no one calls me Don Juan, then or now) and the team still outdrew all the other high school sports combined.
I wrote for the high school paper. Normally I did things like cover the student council or some teacher who did something, but no one else wanted to cover the baseball team, so I took the job. I brought along a score book, kept stats, and wrote up the story of each game for the paper. At least for each home game I did all that. For away games I had to rely on the coach to give me the info. The guy who covered the basketball team had the same problem. The guy who covered the football team had a seat reserved on the team bus. I got a seat in the home bleachers.
And there were plenty of seats to pick. You might have put a couple of hundred people in the bleachers that ran down both the first and third base lines if ever there were that many people. There were none behind home so parents could set up lawn chairs there to watch, except that there were no parents watching. The crowd averaged 10 or less (is 10 a crowd?). There was a little grass in the infield, but not a lot. The outfield was green and sometimes I wondered how much of that was paint. Of course there were no lights. The hgh school football stadium (and it was a stadium) seated a few thousand, had lights, and was kept up by a professional service in town.
Our coach had been there since Alexander Cartwright and knew there was only one way to play ball; you found a pitcher and eight big hulks that could hit the ball a mile but would lose to a slug in a race. Of course for a town that adored football, you tended to have a lot of big, slow guys who could and did play both sports. That meant you saw either a lot of home runs (which almost never happened) or the team played station-to-station ball which meant the games were low scoring. For low scoring games you needed a real pitcher.
His name was Harper and he was new in town. He was a senior, I a junior, and he’d just moved in from somewhere in Kansas. I interviewed him once for the paper. He loved baseball and thought football was silly, “any idiot can knock someone down.” He could also pitch.
About midway through the season, I got to the field to keep score and watch. Harper was pitching and there were about five people in the stands. He had this good fastball and a curve that Sandy Koufax might have noticed. And for seven innings (the regulation length of a high school game then) he was dominant. There are 21 outs in a seven inning game and he struck out 15. He didn’t walk a man and didn’t give his team much of a chance to screw it up for him by making an error. One opponent hit a little tapper back to the mound and another fouled out to the first baseman. That meant only four balls were hit even vaguely hard and only two of those got to the outfield where our big, slow left fielder was able to track both down. Harper had thrown a no-hitter, a perfect game, still the only one I’ve ever seen live. The coach was beaming, the team was proud, all five of us in the stands applauded. It was a great achievement and no one was there to note it.
The team won the conference title that year with Harper going something like 8-0 and the other two pitchers hovering around .500 or so. We won a district game (I still remember that Harper threw a three hitter), then got knocked out of the playoffs with consecutive losses (double elimination format) before he could get back to the mound.
He graduated in May, went off to college on some non-athletic scholarship. I never saw him again, but heard he took the low road and became a lawyer. I don’t know if he was successful, heck, I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But he was good, really good and no one ever saw him pitch. That’s a shame because for one day was the best damned pitcher I ever saw.