Tuesday Column – Diamond Days

Years ago living in Sioux City, I went to many minor league ball games. The hometown Explorers play in the Northern League, unaffiliated teams with mix of young hopefuls and aging veterans.

I remember seeing an ex-big leaguer, whose name escapes me, smack a ground ball to right. As he chugged up the line, the outfielder charged in and threw out the lumbering hitter at first.

Some guy in the crowd yelled “Ya got no wheels. Ya got no wheels.” The player, who was 10 feet from me in the very friendly confines, retorted, “I know I ain’t got no (beeping) wheels!” My 20-something self thought it was very amusing.

I thought about that story the other night as I lumbered into left field for The Gazette’s Headliners I softball team. Somehow, the humor has faded. Now, I, too, have a beeping deficiency in the wheels department. So please, be courteous.

But if you think I’m playing softball as a way to relive my glory days, I’m here to tell you there never were any.

In high school, I played right field for a baseball team that won infrequently. The high-water mark of our futility came the night a conference team scored more than 30 runs against us. I’m pretty sure that’s a record.

So many of our games ended via the 10-run “mercy rule” that we pretty much planned on it. When the carnival was in town, and we had a

7 p.m. game, we figured we’d be on the Tilt-a-Whirl shortly after 8.

But I loved the guys I played with, the road trips around rural Iowa, the laughs in the dugout and all the stuff we got away with in between. Camaraderie is still the main reason I seek out the diamond. And now I’m old enough to buy beer. Bonus.

My dad retired last year after coaching high school softball for more than four decades and more than 1,000 wins. He also oversaw little league softball programs. The guy lived at the diamond in the summertime.

So did I, during my school years, playing every level from T-ball on up. All those different polyester uniforms, team pictures, tournaments and candy bar sales are a pleasant blur.

And when we weren’t playing little league, we were playing on someone’s vacant lot. We were a bunch of little Dale Murphys, Leon Durhams and Ricky Hendersons, who argued whether a “ghost runner” really made it home.

So now, decades later, I still get a chance to dig my cleats in the dirt, and experience that 3.9 seconds of exquisite terror between the realization a ball is headed for me and the fateful result. And no play is routine when you got no wheels.

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