We’re down to the wire in the Major League baseball season, with wildcard winners still to be decided. My eyeballs feel the strain, watching as many games as I can fit in with MLB.tv. Exciting stuff, with three or four games to go. It’s nice to be semi-retired with time on my hands.
I played baseball for most of my youth and into young adulthood, though I failed to make Little League. First there was Babe Ruth, then American Legion, then high-school ball, followed by college. From the age of 16 to my mid-20s I was on several different semi-pro teams. That’s a lot of games, and from that history I have a few memories more distinct than others.
The one seared deepest in my head takes us to old Veterans’ Field in Los Angeles, then home to the UCLA Bruins. It’s the bottom of the 12th, and I’m in to hold a one-run advantage for Cal. I don’t recall how a Bruin reached base. But I do recall that Chris Chambliss, UCLA’s first baseman came to the plate representing the winning run. I made the cardinal error of throwing a slider into the left-hander’s sweet spot, low and inside. The ball screamed off his bat, taking just a few seconds to clear the right field fence. I shouted, for the first and only time, “F**k!” (I take some solace in shutting out the Bruins in Berkeley a few weeks later. A one-hitter, if memory serves.)
Let’s visit Concord’s municipal ball field, which has since been replaced with city offices. I’m starting a playoff game against Richmond’s team. Two runners get on in the top of the first. The next batter for Richmond has a neck as thick as my thighs. He wreaks power. My manager bounds out of the dugout to have a little chat with me. He tells me that whatever pitch I throw to this guy, make sure that it’s not over the outside part of the plate so that the batter with the thick neck can extend his arms. Next pitch, precisely into the forbidden zone, from which the ball was launched over the armory outside the left-field fence. Three runs, just like that. (More solace that afternoon, as I settled down, pitching near hitless ball the rest of the way, with our team winning 15-3.)
Back at Cal’s Evans Diamond. I had pitched one inning the night before in an exhibition game with the Oakland A’s in the Coliseum. Three up, three down against Rick Monday, Joe Rudi, and Tom Reynolds, though Monday’s line drive nearly knocked over our second baseman. At Cal the next day, I was to start against Santa Clara, in what became my weirdest performance ever.
The visitors hit the hell out of the ball in the first couple of innings. Fortunately, all the batted balls found leather, and I escaped unharmed. It was the third inning, I think, when after a few more line-drive outs I completely changed my mechanics, adopting techniques of a fellow pitcher. Amazing. I wound up throwing a shutout with lots of swings and misses.
Now on to Stanford’s Sunken Diamond. I take the mound in the bottom of the first for visiting Cal. The Cardinals’s (as they were then called) leadoff hitter happened to be my battery mate in high school. He did not waste a moment, propelling my first pitch over the centerfield fence. The next time I faced him, he drilled a line drive off the outfield fence for a triple. There was no solace this time, as I lost that game, though I got Bob Boone to pop out.
Finally, I’ll return to high school. I had pitched a no-hitter the previous start. Fast forward to the top of the seventh (the last inning). I had yet to give up a hit and recorded two strikeouts. Just one more out to go. I induce the next batter to swing and miss at a curve ball in the dirt. Unfortunately, the ball got past our catcher. It bounced against the wooden backstop right back to him. He had more than enough time to throw to first base to nail the batter and record the final out. Ah, but his throw sailed over the first baseman’s head and into right field for an error. Now you’re guessing what happens next. I’m going for my second, consecutive no-hitter and need just one more out. However, the next batter shows no mercy, lining the next pitch over the shortstop for a solid single. I threw my glove down in disgust, which made the headlines of the local newspaper’s next edition. So, I settle for a one-hitter.
We have but a weekend left in the MLB regular season. The Mariners are hanging on, just two games shy of a wildcard berth. My beloved Giants, who mysteriously forgot how to win games in the second half, after sporting baseball’s best record in the first, cling to the second wildcard slot in the National League, with St. Louis just a game behind. The team that drafted me out of high school in 1965, the New York Mets, holds the first wildcard position. There is a very real possibility that the Giants will travel to Citifield for the one-game playoff between the two wildcard winners.
Divided loyalties, to be sure. Mercifully, no Trump in this post.