Baseball and life: Dad's 'bad calls' were good advice
I was the terror of T-ball when it came to that level of play, but not so much when it came to the first – and last – two seasons of my pitch-ball career.
In those days, kids handled the pitching at that level. These days, an adult handles that duty.
So every pitcher back then thought he was Vida Blue, throwing as hard as possible but with not enough regard for placement.
Whereas some folks tend to be more prone than others to be targets for disease, lightning bolts and disasters in general, I was a magnet for pitches and likely led the league in on-base percentage.
This had nothing to do with bat-on-ball contact. No, I got on base almost 100 percent of the time just standing there, either getting a walk or trotting to first after a wayward pitch beaned me.
But game after game and into the second season, my fear of going to bat grew. The ball became the enemy.
One pitcher in particularly, Toby Dawson, had the reputation of having the league’s fastest throws. For me, that just meant more pain at the plate.
Toward the end of the second season, I had decided I never wanted to play baseball again, and my parents supported this decision as long as I finished the season. My dad said I still had an obligation to stick with my team and give it my best.
Which meant facing Toby Dawson one more time.
It was a warm, sunny spring day when we, the Cardinals, took the field to play Dawson and his team. The umpire had failed to show, so my dad volunteered to put on the mask and make the calls behind the plate.
It came my time to bat and found some comfort in having my dad just inches away.
Toby unleashed his first pitch, which hit the dirt about 6 inches in front of the plate.
The field grew quiet, other than a few whispers, as attention turned to the man behind the plate, the guy who loudly had called a “strike” on an obvious “ball” pitch.
A befuddled Toby got ready to throw his second pitch, and I raised my bat, which remained in no danger of being swung.
The next terrifying pitch whizzed for my shin, forcing me to jump in order to avoid it.
The whispers from the crowd grew, and the catcher looked up at Dad. I stood there, also staring at Dad.
He said something that I can’t recall, and we returned to play.
Fearing a strike out with nary a pitch going over the plate, I felt I had no choice but to swing on the next pitch, even if Toby managed to throw it backward and over the outfield wall.
This time, Toby displayed control and threw one right down the middle.
I swung as hard as I could — and connected, right on the sweet spot of the bat. The ball took off like a missile, well over second base and out toward the outfield fence.
Having never been in this position, I hesitated a second before running toward first base.
The ball landed at the base of the fence in centerfield, and the first-base coach waved me on to second. I managed to slide in just ahead of the throw. A double!
The trip-around-the-bases excitement didn’t end there.
Another hit moved me to third base.
And after yet another hit, the third-base coach hollered for me to take home plate.
But the ball got there just before I did, and a Pete Rose-like collision with the catcher ensued.
Dad finally made a right call. I was caught, dead to rights.
I’ve told this story often over the years, and it underscores the kind of man my dad was.
Standing there and watching pitches go by or bounce off my noggin wasn’t what my dad considered doing my best.
It also taught a valuable lesson in swinging for the fence, not just in the face of fear, when there is nothing left to lose.
We can’t just stand there when life starts throwing us wild pitches. My dad and his creative umpiring gave me something to remember for the rest of my life.
And it was the only hit I ever got in pitch ball.