[We, “we” being Silverbelle Sandy and myself, were eating breakfast this morning while watching Morning Joe on MS-NBC when Joe and Willie went into one of their time-filling tangents on baseball. Specifically, they were discussing the rule changes implemented by Major League Baseball this season. SB Sandy said “Oo-oo” which I interpreted as “As a lifelong student of baseball, what’s your considered opinion of these rule changes?” (She would never solicit my opinion on something as trivial as Presidential politics or foreign events.)
“I’m in favor of the pitch clock and the larger bases, but I’m against banning the shift,” I said.
“And why’s that?”
“Let me tell you a little story,” I begin …]
published originally in The White River Valley Herald
Sprague’s Dairy vs. the Guy Wilson Agency …
The Day the Baseball World Stood Still
Author’s long-winded introduction:
Memoirs are the hottest category in the literary world at the moment. It makes sense. Baby Boomers are dropping like flies and are scribbling down their recollections while they are on the right side of the ground. They want to be immortalized and memorialized before someone hits that great delete button in the sky.
As a hard-nosed, professional journalist, trained in my craft to meet the rigorous professional standards of The White River Valley Herald I am accustomed to writing only the absolute truth. There’s no room for opinion or shading … just the facts. But this story is not journalism, it’s memoir, or “memwah,” a term that better conveys my lack of seriousness.
When you are doing memwah, the facts are irrelevant, because you are relying on memory. All the Siris and Googles on the planet are of no help when it comes to memory, so you do your best to fill in gaps. Fact-checking, research, confirmation of sources … right out the window. If someone calls you on an inaccuracy, you just say “Well … that’s how I remember it. If you don’t like it, write your own memwah.”
Apologies in advance to my former teammates on the Sprague’s Dairy/M&M team, including but not limited to, Ron Warner, Ken Trask, the brothers Wheatley (Pat and Jimmy), the brothers Hannah (Jeff and Jim), Devon Rainey, Rick Storm, “Loose Eddie” Luce, Roland Therrien, and some guy named Tim from Northfield.
So what does this have to do with baseball?
It’s the summer of 1981, or maybe ‘82. I play in the local men’s slow pitch softball league. I play short-field for the team sponsored by Sprague’s Dairy. Actually … we’re sponsored by M&M Redemption Center, because Sprague’s decided to drop their sponsorship, but we still have the t-shirts bearing their name, because M&M didn’t want to spring for new shirts.
I’m new in town and thus a fish out of water from a bro-brother standpoint. Most of the players know each other from high school, the local bar, or from simply living in a small town. I am a stranger, a Flatlander no less. I am also a little older, over 30, boi jeezum. I do old guy things like stretching exercises before taking the field.
On the field, however, differences are quickly brushed aside. These guys can play! By “play” I don’t necessarily mean they are outstandingly athletic or talented, but they understand the fundamentals of baseball and know the importance of little things, like hitting the cut-off man or when to call a pop-up a “can of corn..” It is the best caliber of baseball I have experienced, much better than my high school years.
I like the attitudes of my teammates, as well. They play hard, with a good level of intensity, but no one takes things too seriously. There are occasional arguments, but after the game it is time to break out the case of beer (alas, always the cheapest beer available) and relive the details of the game just played. It also provides a community of Red Sox addicts with whom I can share stories of agony.
The big event of the season is the double elimination tournament to determine who will represent the league at this year’s state tournament … you know, the big one up in Burlington. We’re a decent team, but not among the league’s elite. Double elimination tournaments can take forever if your team is good and you actually win. Saturday separates the losers from the contenders, with the championship decided on Sunday. I tell my wife that it is safe to make plans for Sunday afternoon. On this occasion, however, we surprise ourselves and end up in the winner’s bracket, although we have lost one game. The bad news is, our opponent on Sunday is the feared Guy Wilson Agency. And we have to beat them TWICE. We’ve never beaten them once.
The Guy Wilson Agency is the one team in the league that is stacked with ringers, local lads who can wail the piss out of the ball. These guys had been smacking balls over our heads all season, so I fully expect our season to be over by noon.
Before the game I meet with our fellow outfielders to discuss strategy, meaning to whine about how we will be chasing balls smacked over our heads. There are no outfield fences where we play (Randolph Union High School) so any shot between or over the fielders rolls ad infinitum.
One of us (I can’t remember who, but I will take credit since it’s my memwah) comes up with an idea. “My only goal is to not let a ball go over my head. They can get all the hits in the world, but they are NOT hitting a ball over my head. When there big guys come to the plate, I’m moving to the other side of the planet.” We all agree to play it this way. We have nothing to lose.
The first of the Guy Wilson wailers comes to the plate. Our left fielder moves about 100 feet into the woods. Pat Wheatley to my right takes a position out near Exit 4. I position myself near the Three Stallion Inn, and right fielder, Roland Therrien, sets himself up on Merchant’s Row in downtown Randolph.
The Guy Wilson slugger swings and hits an awesome shot that looks like it will never land. He flips the bat and goes into his home run trot. As he rounds first, however, he watches in disbelief as his mammoth shot settles into Roland’s glove . Roland is so far out in right field you need binoculars to see him.
The next player goes in Pat’s direction with the same result. When we converge on the bench we exchange high fives. “Coupla cans of corn,” someone says.
Rather than doing the obvious, i.e. taking advantage of the cavernous gaps between infield and outfield, the Guy Wilson sluggers resort to vintage male-of-the-species behavior and re-double their efforts to hit balls over our heads . Their frustration becomes palpable and even results in complaints that our strategy is illegal or, even worse, unmanly. (Now do you see the relevance to the original question about the legality of the shift?)
Game one goes to Sprague’s Dairy/M&M! Our mood is buoyant as we kill time drinking cheap beer before the second game. We figure the Guy Wilsons will adjust and, in the words of Wee Willie Keeler, “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Today at the Major League level it’s called “small ball.” This, however, is about as far from the major league level as you can get on this planet. We return to our normal positioning, meaning that the infielders are within a quarter mile of the outfielders. But small ball isn’t their strong suit, and the Guy Wilson Agency starts looking entirely mortal … just like us!
In the final inning we are clinging to a one run lead, but Guy Wilson is threatening with the bases loaded and only one out. From my outfield vantage I’m thinking this will be a close-but-no-cigar ending when I see the batter smash a one hopper to our third baseman who calmly steps on the bag and guns it to first.
Game over! That quickly. Bang-bang. David has beaten Goliath. They will be talking about this at the watering holes and barber shops forever. It might even make the sports page of The Herald. The baseball world never be the same! Cheap beer never tasted so good.
Epilogue: The next weekend we go to Burlington and promptly get our asses kicked … twice. Hm-m-m … maybe I should revise this memwah to have us win that tournament, too.
You can find more Baseball Stories by Stephen Morris at https://thebaseballstories.wordpress.com/