After visiting the University of Michigan last week, I swung through Minneapolis for a three-day “layover” and spent Easter with my parents. Monday night I drove by the old softball fields at Oakwood where I spent much of my summer evenings growing up, and I also had dinner with a former softball teammate at Snuffy’s Malt Shop. (Hi, Amy.) These occurrences, combined with the fact that I’ve been reading The Brother’s K, have inspired me to attempt to write down little vignettes based on my experiences on various ball fields growing up. This might become a series of entries. Or it might be a one time thing to get this out of my system. In any event…

The Catch
Back in 8th grade, I was the star first baseman of the Wayzata East Junior High softball team. Given that we didn’t win a game all season, that’s not saying much. We were pretty much the girls softball equivalent of The Bad News Bears. One of our outfielders repeatedly showed up to practice and games high on whatever magic pills she was storing in her locker and our sober outfielders were infamous for watching the fly balls soar over their heads, waiting until they landed to go and retrieve them.
Due to my own solid glove and the lack of initiative in our various deliquent right fielders, I pretty much took defensive claim over any foul pop-ups to the right side. In one memorable away game, we were playing on a muddy field that lacked all fences, save the backstop. We were in the field, and the current batter had one strike against her. On the next pitch, she swung and connected and I saw the ball soar high into the air right towards my right field foul territory.
Now, it’s worth noting that when I say the ball soared high, I mean that it pretty much went straight up and the fact that it traveled a significant horizontal distance was due do the large amount of time it spent travelling vertically. As soon as it left the bat, I focused on nothing but the ball and chased after it somewhere deep in foul territory. All I could see was the white dot flying against the blue sky, and thus I had no idea just how foul the ball was or how close I was coming to the giant mud puddle that had formed on the dirt path behind our visiting team bench.
Realizing that I was going to come a few steps short of actually reaching the ball, at the last second I desperately stuck my glove way out in front of me and dove onto my knees, right into the aforementioned mud puddle. Much to my amazement, the ball landed right in my glove. I raised it above my head to the cheers of my team. I could see my coach, the illustrious Mr. Lamphere, laughing and shaking his head in disbelief. Then I realized that I had run right past my team’s bench, off of the playing field entirely. And that’s when the umpire broke the bad news.
“The catch was out of bounds. No play. Foul ball – strike two.”
I was incredulous. I had just made the catch of my life, gotten myself covered in mud, and yet it didn’t count because I had run too far. My coach continued laughing and shrugged as I picked myself up and headed back to the infield, ball in hand.
On the next pitch, the batter straightened it out and sent a towering drive over our center fielder’s head. She crossed home plate before we even got the ball back to the infield.


4 responses »

  1. Thank you for this grrr-eat! story of everyone’s wayward youth: you will be glad for this memory forever and your children, nephews, nieces,and the next door neighbor’s kids will thrive on it!

  2. When your mother mentioned this missive to me, I thought I even remembered it. But alas, I was thinking of another catch wherein you slammed into the chain link fence surrounding the field. That one, I believe, they actually counted as an out.
    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we had a special rule for you as a first baseman. We never completed an empty base out with the traditional “around the horn” since we were never sure where your throw might actually wind up. I believe we even resorted to you walking the ball back to the pitcher.

  3. God, those were wonderful times. I remember that clearly. I also remember the chain link catch. I know we’ve tried to re-create some of those days, but there’s just no going back. Our recreations formed some new memories though. The softball game that turned into a fully-clothed swim in Parkers Lake… which then turned into a dusty, ponytailed jaunt to Snuffy’s in prom dresses. I have better memories of that “prom” outing than I do of my actual prom.
    A couple more softball memories for you…
    Playing fast pitch with the ninth graders when they were short-handed. If I remember correctly, you were hit by a pitch.
    “Malibou Barbie”
    As I recall, Lamphere always called me slow. But he didn’t have anyone else who could catch, so there wasn’t much he could do about it.
    Which year was it that we had a “lake” between first base and right field?
    All of this makes me wish it was a little warmer outside. Too bad we still have ice on the lakes…

  4. The lake was 8th grade… and I only remember this because we called it Lake Lamphere.
    Getting hit in the ear was another vignette I was thinking about writing up. Except that I don’t remember much after the pitch left the girl’s hand.
    And if I recall, the whole bit with the chain link fence was that I grabbed onto it with my right hand and pulled myself up a few inches so that I could properly catch the ball in my left. Or maybe I just crashed into it…

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