Reflections From The Front Porch
Written by Darrell Anderson.
Like many people I possess several memories of my baseball career as a youth. In my first organized game ever, I was assigned the starting second base position. I was a year and half younger than many of my teammates, and as a starter I somewhat understood the responsibility placed upon my tiny shoulders. During the first game of the season I confidently took the field and participated in warm-ups. The umpire then called “Play ball!” and I knew the moment of truth had arrived. Was I able to compete with all of these older and bigger boys?
Everybody in the infield started the traditional chatter in the hopes of distracting the batter. Our pitcher took the mound, eyed the catcher, and started his wind-up. He threw hard.
I heard the crack of the bat. That I was not expecting. I expected a called ball or strike as the batter acclimated to our pitcher’s release. Instead he had the gall to actually swing and hit the first pitch!
I recall the white ball approaching my face. A line drive directly to me. The ball grew bigger and bigger. I did the only thing I knew how to do. I moved my glove and caught the ball.
I nonchalantly threw the ball “around the horn,” and I heard the coach yelling his approval. But the noise I remember most was my mom in the bleachers screaming. The entire event seemed to set the pace for our season. We won first place. As we did the next two years. I wasn’t the little guy anymore.
A few years later and I had migrated to the position of catcher. I liked being involved in every play. A few folks thought I was pretty good, considering I got selected as an all star for several years. Playing that position had some memorable moments. I recall chasing a foul ball that hung quite high. So focused was I on the ball that I never noticed that the ball had spun out of play and that I was about to experience a personal moment with the back stop fence. I hit the fence hard and collapsed. For the first time in my young life I experienced stars. The coaches and umpire immediately all gathered around me. “Are you okay?” “Yup” was all I could muster. But I was a catcher — and catchers are tough! I grabbed my mask and walked toward the plate. I then turned and asked the umpire for a ball.
Another time playing catcher I learned the value of my equipment. I was at that tender age of physically maturing into manhood. One practice the coach asked me if I was wearing my protective cup. For the life of me I do not know why he asked me that because he never did before or thereafter. I wasn’t and I lied. About 15 minutes into practice, one of my teammates hit one of those foul balls that bounces directly down off home plate, and the ball spun backwards right at me. You already know where the ball hit me. All I could do was roll backwards and gasp for air. The coach walked over to me, stared for a moment, then said, “You lied, didn’t you?” I shook my head in agreement. I never again lied about wearing that one piece of equipment because I never again forgot.
Through the years, although I played mostly at catcher, I nonetheless played all the other positions at one time or another. Except one — pitcher. During my last season, for some goofy reason, I told the coach during practice that I had never played that position. He signaled to our pitcher and then told me to throw a few. I could get the ball over the plate okay, but I was not impressive. After several batters the coach had me move to the outfield.
Later that week our starting pitcher struggled in a game. Our backup pitcher was sick. I was playing second base. The coach looked at me and wiggled his finger. I shook my head in disbelief. At the mound I asked the coach if he was thinking straight. He said, “You’re all I got and you’re the most experienced player.” He slapped the ball into my glove.
I was allowed my customary warm-up pitches and the players on the other team began laughing. I knew I was not a pitcher. But this is how the game is played. The first batter faced me and I threw as hard as I could because I did not know how to throw any other kind of pitch.
I shocked myself as well as the batter. Two more pitches and the batter was out. The coach was hollering his encouragement.
Two more batters with similar results. Two more strike outs. I walked off the field toward the dugout. I was stunned. I had no idea what I was doing right. And the coach didn’t care. He was full of praise and accolades.
The next inning arrived and I struck out the first two batters. This was surreal. I had struck out the top of their line up, including their star batter — somebody who should have hit my pitches out of the park. The third batter hit a lazy blooper behind the first baseman, but he missed the ball. I shrugged and then the umpire called the game on account of darkness. We would complete the game later that week.
Six batters, five strike outs. I never again pitched that season, and that was my last season of organized baseball. But nobody can ever take away that moment from me.
Lastly, I still vividly recall the first time a baseball pitcher threw a curve ball at me. I nearly colored my underpants. The pitcher laughed at me. The next pitch he threw at me I hit right smack back at him. Purely in self defense he caught the ball while ducking as fast as possible. I was out, but he got the message.
Later in the game, this guy decided to steal home. Although most of us boys were still boys with scratchy voices, this guy had physically matured early and was the size of a grown man. I saw him barreling down the base line at me. I was an all-star catcher and I was not about to let this gorilla ruin my reputation. My pitcher threw the ball. The batter swung and missed. I crouched over home plate. I was armored with all of my equipment, but I knew this was going to hurt. The gorilla folded his arms as though he was a fullback in a flying wedge. The collision threw me into a backwards somersault. My mask went flying. The gorilla lay on top of me. The umpire waited. I caught my breath, exhaled, and I showed the ump my glove.
I smiled at the gorilla and he smiled back. He rubbed my head and never again threw a curve ball at me.
Through the years I have noticed many times that size often plays no role in athletics. The key is heart and desire. It ain’t the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog.
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