Jackie Robinson and Me put one over on the Methodists

Churches in my town were a step or 2 above this one

As I’ve said before, I’m feeling nostalgic a lot recently. Next month marks 50 years since I went to Viet Nam, so maybe that’s got me thinking a lot about my youth (which I lost on one morning in ‘Nam). But to go along with the picnic story, here’s another recollection that proves I could be something of an obnoxious kid.

The friend of mine who I mentioned in the church picnic story was on his church softball team in the local Church League. They had him at second base so that left a hole in center field where he might normally play. So he contacted me with an offer to join the team. There were two quick objections I raised:

“I’ve never played softball.”

“Just think of it as baseball with a bigger ball and tape on the bat.”

“I have a taped bat, but it’s because the thing is broken.”

” Well, these come with tape, broken or otherwise. What’s the second problem?”
“Don’t I have to be a member of your church?”

“Nope. There are a lot of little churches in town and a bunch of them can’t field a team.”

“Why don’t they field joint teams?”

“The theological ramifications of that would be impossible to explain, Dimbulb.”

“OK.”

“So as long as you know someone in the church, you can play. You know me.”

Solved that problem.

So I showed up at the first practice and they let me bat. The pitcher slung one in and I clobbered it. I mean I caught it right on the fat part of the ball and the sweet spot of the bat. I hit it so hard that in Little League or American Legion Ball or Junior High it was long, long gone. It made it most of the way to second base and I was out by several steps. It seemed you didn’t hit a softball like you hit a baseball. And three practices in I figured out I was never going to be able to drive the ball out of the infield. Well, there was always the bunt. That worked. In fact it worked really well and is the crux of this tale. BTW, I should be clear this is softball, not slow pitch softball where bunting isn’t allowed.

The church I was playing for had this guy who was terrible, but loved the game. So they made him a “spy.” They didn’t call him that, but his job was to go around and watch the other teams practice and see what he could find out. I had a job for him.

“Find out whatever you can on the third baseman.”

“Like what?”

” Can he come in on an infield grounder? Can he go to his left? Is he overweight?”

“Come again?”

“Old and overweight guys don’t move too well and are easier to bunt on.”

“Gotcha.”

The scourge of the local Church League was a small independent Methodist Church that had won the league trophy four years in a row. It was fairly small with a lot of working class families in it. It was staunchly fundamentalist and conservative and was sure God’s three greatest contributions to the human race were Jesus of Nazareth, chicken fried steak, and John Wesley. And depending on how close you were to dinner (or Sunday) the order could vary. But they were a terrific softball team. Their pitcher was pretty good, they hit well, and for a Church League Softball team they fielded reasonably well. Of course their third baseman was in his late 30s, overweight, couldn’t move (especially to his left), and had a decent arm (he was a third baseman after all). And we drew them for game one.

I hit lead off, my buddy Dave (he’s the guy in center in the church picnic story) hit second, the assistant pastor hit third, and “Tiny” Henderson of the picnic story hit cleanup. We could hit OK, but neither Dave nor I had any power at all. So of course I led off by dropping a bunt to the left of the third baseman. He stood there for a while not quite sure what to do. I’m not sure he’d ever seen a bunt. I am sure he didn’t have any idea how to field one. He finally huffed and puffed over to the ball, grabbed it and had enough sense to eat it rather than throw it away (overweight guys like me understand eating).

Now softball had (still has, I think) these strange rules about base running. You can’t lead off and you can’t take off until a pitched ball crosses home plate. Because of that most players plant one foot on the base  and they (and the foot) then face toward second so they can move quickly toward the next base. I took a standard baseball stance. One foot was just touching first and all of me was looking at home (except my eyes, which were on the pitcher). It was evident I wasn’t planning on stealing. Heck, I wasn’t facing the right direction.

The pitcher tossed the ball, Dave took ball one (at least I think it was a ball–I don’t remember after all these years) and the catcher cocked back to throw the ball to the pitcher. That’s when I took off. Being already in motion, the catcher couldn’t adjust his throw to get the ball all the way to second and the ball ended up in no man’s land somewhere near the pitchers circle. I was safe on second and the  Methodist’s erupted. They were screaming I’d left too early (how that was possible when the catcher had the ball was unclear). OK, Ump, then he wasn’t on the bag properly (my foot was facing the wrong direction). The catcher, the pitcher, the ball, and the Methodists manager were at first screaming at the ump. Me? I just wandered over to third, stepped on it, and reminded the third base umpire that no one had asked for time. He concurred. That set off another screaming fit, but at least this time someone asked for time.

And Dave was still at the plate. We were both old enough to remember Jackie Robinson and were both enamored of a play he used frequently. A slow roller (or a bunt) went to the third baseman and Robinson would trail along just behind the fielder. If the fielder threw to first, Robinson ran home. If the fielder turned to run Robinson back to third, the batter was safe on first. With an overweight, out of shape, Church League third baseman, the play was a no brainer.

Dave looked down at me, mouthed “Jackie,” and squared to bunt. It was a great bunt. The third baseman got to it finally, I was about two feet behind him. He stood, cocked his arm, and I raced by him. He saw me and, like the catcher, couldn’t stop his arm. All he could do was chuck the ball into that same area between first and the mound where the catcher had lobbed the ball and both Dave and I were safe. That led to the third baseman unleashing a string of words, most with four letters, that I didn’t know Methodists used.

It opened the flood gates. The assistant pastor doubled off a clearly rattled pitcher and “Tiny” Henderson put one so high and out of sight a couple of people decided it achieved orbit. The team put up five runs that inning and several more later (I forget the final score) and the Methodist spell was broken.

I’d like to say we won the league trophy that year, but we finished fourth, just ahead of the Methodists who never recovered from the opening loss. Mostly the team considered that a signal victory. I left for the Army before the next season, but Dave (who was a year younger) told me that they used the play again and the Methodist third baseman called him a whole bunch of things he’d not been called before, at least by a Methodist.

 

 

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5 Responses to “Jackie Robinson and Me put one over on the Methodists”

  1. rjkitch13 Says:

    I work in a Calvary Chapel and I’m still shocked at some of the language 🙂 Good story, V!

  2. wkkortas Says:

    I used to play some pickup basketball, and one of the teams we used to play against had a “member of the congregation” who just happened to be a walk-on for a Division I NCAA championship team. OK, he was a walk on, but, c’mon, dude had a ring. They’d play us close, and then the ringer came in, dropped a quick eight or ten points on us, and then he’s sit down until it got close again. Churchgoin’ men seem to let certain bits of piety slide between the white lines.

  3. glenrussellslater Says:

    This is a great story, and, as I mentioned before, I think your best stuff, V, is when you tell the stories of your youth. This reminds me that I should write some sports stories of when I was playing in various Jewish Community Center leagues, as well. And they’re not pretty.

  4. glenrussellslater Says:

    “It was staunchly fundamentalist and conservative and was sure God’s three greatest contributions to the human race were Jesus of Nazareth, chicken fried steak, and John Wesley. And depending on how close you were to dinner (or Sunday) the order could vary.” I particularly like part, V! Nice and witty writing!

  5. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I love the stories that you tell … plus, excellent baseball, errr … softball … strategy, v. Well played!

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