4-H Softball, Done the Pirate Way
Softball was a summer thing that boys had to do. There really was no choice in the matter. 4-H Clubs were part of how boys became men and girls became ladies in small Iowa farm towns. And, of course, in order for small town like Norwall to have enough members to have their own separate 4-H Club, they needed every boy in the whole town, and all the surrounding farmland to join. And worse, in order to field a softball team, in the 1990’s, you had to let the girls play too.
“Bobby, I’m glad you remembered your glove. You will take right field and we’ll let Blueberry be our bench tonight.” Tom Kellogg was Tim’s Grandpa and the coach of the team. He’d been involved in 4-H for more than 30 years. What he said always goes. And, anyway, right field was where you always played your weakest players. It was the one place Bobby was most suited to be during the game.
“Right coach. Did Blueberry forget her glove?”
“No. She always remembers. I just think it’s your turn to get the playing time this week.”
“Thanks, coach,” he said totally without enthusiasm.
“Hey, Bedwetter Bobby! Good to see you in the line-up again,” Frosty Anderson said with a wicked, sneering laugh. Old Forrest Woodley Anderson played short stop like a pro. He was actually on the Belle City Broncos High School Baseball team too that summer.
“You owe us a home run this season,” said Tim Kellogg. Tim played catcher. He was the leader of the Pirates and basically the boss of every high school and junior high kid in Norwall. He was referring to the fact that last summer, Bobby had let a fly ball drop in front of him and then roll past him out to the road behind the softball field. It had been a home run for Delwyn Marmoody of Clarion, playing for the Lincoln Leaders of the Clarion 4-H Club. And Delwyn was a runty little loser who only played softball as a sport, nothing else, and had only hit that one home run in his whole entire lifetime. That home run.
Bobby was supposed to hit the only home run of his whole entire lifetime this season to make up for it. His error had been the reason for all three runs that the Leaders had beaten the Pirates by in what was supposedly a very important game.
And now Mike Murphy was walking out to the mound where he would pitch his famous “Wicked Windmill” underhanded fastballs and try to make it impossible for the Leaders to hit one out into the right field again this year. Billy Martin was out in the outfield too. And he was good at catching practically anything hit into left or center field. He played both positions in softball. He was the varsity baseball left-fielder for the Belle City Broncos, and definitely good enough to play two positions at once in 4-H.
Bobby trotted out to the lonely grass of deep right field. Nothing was going to get past him this year. Especially if no one hit it to right field.
And nobody did in the first inning.
Mike whiffed two of the three Lincoln Leaders he faced in the top of the inning. And the other one, Leroy Watson, the blond Apollo of Clarion High School, tried to beat out a bunt, and Dilsey Murphy, Mike’s older sister, and a girl playing third base. threw him out by five feet.
Then it was time for the Pirates to take to the plate. Johnny Miller, a farm kid from the country East of Norwall, but who went to Dows High School instead of Belle City, led off with an out. Dilsey, the third baseman but second hitter, was thrown out at first.
Next, Mike Murphy was up. He took his big blue bat up to the plate. It was a twenty-ounce bat, the heftiest one the Pirates had. And he clubbed it with the same stroke he had used to slay the rat at the Niland place. The ball went out to center field and Mike was on third before the fielders could get it back to the infield.
“Now you’re going to see something!” Frosty Anderson bragged, as he picked up Mike’s blue bat and took several practice swings.
And Frosty was right. He watched Watson get totally rattled by Mike’s hit and throw four straight balls, allowing Frosty to stroll on down to first with a walk and a smirk on his face.
“Alright, Niland. You are up next. I’m gonna save Tim and Billy to see how many we can score if you can get on.”
“But, coach!” Tim Kellogg was livid. He would normally be batting next. And with two men on base!
Bobby was mortified. “Coach, no! Please!”
“Bobby, yes. This will work. The boy is rattled, and you are a smaller strike zone than Tim. He will walk you for sure.”
Grudgingly the Pirates did see the logic in this.
“You can do it, Bobby. I believe in you,” Blueberry said with a pat on his back and an encouraging smile.
Bobby walked to the plate with one of the two lightest bats the Pirates owned. He reached it out to tap the plate as if he knew what the hell he was doing, and then took a semi-awkward stance and glared at Greek-god Watson.
Sure enough, the first pitch was high and outside, a pitch even Bobby couldn’t be fooled into swinging at.
“Way to watch ‘em, Bob! That’s a good eye!” shouted Mr. Kellogg the coach.
“Don’t swing at the next one unless you’re sure you can hit it!” hollered Grandpa Butch from the stands where he was sitting with Dad, Mom, and Shane.
But, that, of course, only served to convince Bobby that he would hit the next one, no matter what.
The pitch came in high and outside, almost precisely the same spot the first pitch had fluttered by. This time, of course, Bobby swung at the ball with home-run-hitting-Casey-at-the-bat confidence. He could see in his mind’s eye where the ball would fly out in a gloriously high arc, all the way to the road, and be the home run that he owed the team.
It was a complete whiff. His bat didn’t come anywhere near the ball, missing by at least two feet.
“Aw, no!” groaned Mike from third base.
“Why’d you swing at that, Bedwetter Bob?” hooted Frosty.
“You’ll get the next one, Bobby!” called out Blueberry.
“I’ll get the next one,” Bobby muttered to himself.
Another outside pitch and another swing brought another miss. More groans and insults came from the Pirate bench.
Bobby choked up on his light bat. In fact, he was strangling it now.
The next one was way low. But with two strikes, you have to protect the plate, right? He swung down below his knees at it, hoping to golf it over the road.
But when he connected, he dribbled a weird bouncer right back to the pitcher. Watson’s eyes bugged out. He saw Mike dashing for the plate. He whipped it to the catcher underhanded to get Mike out.
And he proved how shook-up Clarion’s blond Apollo still was. The ball bounced past the catcher’s sneakers all the way to the backstop. And then it caromed back to the plate where Mike had already scored. Watson caught the ball and threw at Frosty at third. This time it bounced past the third baseman and went past the left end of the backstop into weeds behind the bleachers.
Frosty stepped on home plate and shouted at Bobby who was standing on first.
“Run god-dobbit! Run you bouncy-ball smacker!” Whatever it was Frosty intended to say, what he did say had the effect of making Bobby take off to second base. And then as both the third baseman and the short stop searched for the ball in the weeds, Bobby realized he could make third. And as he got to third, the short stop fired the ball over the head of Delwyn Marmoody, the second baseman into right-centerfield. Bobby could’ve walked home. Instead, he slid into home, causing a painful abrasion to his right wrist.
It was Blueberry Bates who pulled him to his feet with the biggest, goofiest grin he had ever seen on her pretty face. And it was Mike Murphy who caught Bobby under the armpits and lifted him into the air.
“A three-run home run!” crowed Mike.
“More like a three-run triple-error!” said Frosty, who was also grinning and patting Bobby on the back. Bobby knew that Frosty was more right than Mike, but it was a feeling he had never had before. Well, except maybe in daydreams and his imagination. All those pretend home runs he had hit for the Minnesota Twins in his backyard fantasies had finally paid off.