This is dedicated to those wonderful friends and memories of those wonderful summers spent on those wonderfully dandelion-strewn baseball fields in the warm sun of our youth. Please don’t tell me how so-and-so didn’t play that position, or point out other baseball strategy flaws – and yes, I know there were so many more names I could have used – maybe in the next story. Some of this is rather true, and some of it is joyously fabricated. You can be sure, however, that this tale has been born of the best memories that can possibly swim in a guy’s mind.
That Championship Game
In the MIPWBL (Mountain Iron PeeWee Baseball League), Parkville and South Grove approached the end of the season with identical records of 9 wins and 2 losses. The league champion would be declared in the one game they had left, which was scheduled to be in Parkville.
And what a rivalry! Parkville, the ‘old’ town… been around since the 1920s, home to a great deal of mine workers, some of those families had been around since those first houses went up. South Grove… pretty new, really, a bedroom community of crackerbox houses, and many new families to the area.
On the five-mile bus ride to Parkville, their coach Gary Skalko spoke. “Boys, we wrap it all up today. I’ll fill you in on the lineup when we get there, but I’ll say this much. We’re gonna go with Scotty on the mound, but Phil, you be ready to relieve Scotty. Parkville has some good hitters, so we will need fresh arms out there.”
Scotty Edstrom was a scrappy right hander who threw as fast as anyone in the league. Phil Koski was a tall, skinny, kid – a lefty who was known for being wild. He’d walk a mess of batters but he’d strike them out, too.
Scotty’s teammates cheered their approval, their voices echoing through the big bus. Slapping his pal Scotty on the back, Gary Johnson, the chatty catcher of the team, smiled a big grin and let loose with a loud “Let’s Go Scotty-o!” bringing more cheers to the bus. The boys hooted and hollered as they arrived at the Parkville field.
The Parkville field was typical of the ball fields in the league.
Along each baseline, unpainted and weathered wooden benches served as dugouts. Five telephone poles driven into the ground draped with chicken wire made up the backstop. There were no home run fences – the outfield was defined by Highway 169 along right field, Fourth Street along left field. No one ever hit it as far as the roads, so every homer had to be run out as the fielders chased down the ball. No white lines appeared; the baselines were merely paths worn by players feet as they ran out their hits. The bases themselves were small sacks filled with sand. The pitcher’s mound was merely a board spiked into the ground.
Parkville’s coach Alan Nelson walked across the infield to the South Grove coach where they exchanged lineups in their official scorebooks. Once this was done, the books were handed over to the non-starters (Zach Edstrom for South Grove, Charlie Smith and Beanie Herbert for Parkville) to keep track of the stats of the game. Those lineups:
SOUTH GROVE – Gary Johnson, c; Scott Edstrom, p; Phil Koski, 1b; Greg Swanson, 3b; Steve Kottke, ss; Jeff Anderson, 2b; Mike Coleman, cf; Mike Kochevar, lf, Jake Nichols, rf
PARKVILLE – Jimmy Nelson, 2b; Gary Pagliaccetti, 3b; Jeff Skaudis, lf; Dave Olson, p; Steve Hoglund, 1b; John Jarvi, c; Del Savela, cf, Kim Knuti, ss; Warren Smith, rf
The coaches served as umpires as ruled by the league; Alan stood behind the mound to call balls and strikes, Gary placed himself between first and second base to call the running plays. Further rules demanded that every boy (ages 9-12) play in every game, batters and runners always had to wear helmets, no stealing bases, and all games ran six innings, unless more were needed to break a tie. A duffel bag filled with helmets, catching equipment, a few bats, and a few balls were provided by the league.
Dave Olson took his warmups as his teammates shouted the usual phrases; “Chuck it in there, Davey.” And “One-two-three inning!” and “Big man, little stick”, just to ride the South Grove batters a bit. South Grove gave it right back with “Rubber arm out there!”
It was a quick first inning for the Parkville pitcher. Gary Johnson, blessed with athletic ability, stepped to the plate with confidence. It didn’t matter much, as Olson struck him out on three fast balls. Scott Edstrom and Phil Koski, both good hitters, also failed to make contact.
The teams exchanged places as they passed each other, sharing good-natured insults on the way:
“Nice glove! Where did you get it? Your mother’s sewing kit?” “Don’t trip on the grass, you dork.”
Parkville barely managed any better in their half of the inning. Jimmy Nelson tapped a grounder back to the pitcher, and then both Gary Pagliaccetti and Jeff Skaudis struck out.
The game went quickly for the first three and a half innings. The six times that a batter managed to make contact, it was a feeble grounder that found its way into an infielder’s glove, pegged over to first base, recording an out; all the other outs were strikeouts. The only base hit went to Parkville’s Del Savela, who managed to knock one between first and second base for a single. He got no further than that.
Parkville came to bat in the bottom of the fourth, finally getting to the South Grove pitcher for some runs. Gary Pagliaccetti hit a double out to left field, and Jeff Skaudis sped safely to first base when he tapped the ball down the base line, running out Gary Johnson’s throw, allowing Pagliaccetti to get to third base. Pitcher Dave Olson, the biggest kid on the Parkville team, swatted a hard one between fielders in left and center that scored both runners, giving Parkville a 2-0 lead. Dave ended up on second base as coach Nelson found his way to follow the ‘every boy has to play’ rule and put in perennial benchwarmer Beanie Herbert as a pinch runner, which meant that Kim Knuti would move in to pitch and Charlie Smith come in from the bench and take over at second base for the next inning. Beanie handed the scorebook to Olson, grabbed a helmet from the bag, put it on, and sprinted to second, where he stood and beamed at getting into the game so quickly and unexpectedly. He immediately started looking for four-leaf clovers around the baseline. Coach Nelson called out “Pay attention, Herbert!” bringing Beanie back into the game.
Steve Hoglund was next, popping up just behind second base. Jeff Anderson caught the ball and looked over to second, expecting to see Beanie standing on the base. Beanie, not a big baseball mind, started running the wrong way, back to first base. Jeff tagged him out for an unassisted double play. The Parkville gang groaned their discontent.
The South Grove team shouted their approval. Coach Nelson, from his position behind the pitcher as umpire, patted Beanie on the helmet as Beanie returned to the bench, giving him a “Nice try out there, Beanie. You’ll do better next time.” The Parkville boys, knowing they needed to show good sportsmanship and support to their teammate, kept their comments quiet, muttering words under their breath as Beanie took off his helmet and exiled himself to the far end of the bench to stay away from any further digs and embarrassment, clearly realizing his error. Olson flipped the scorebook and pencil to Beanie with a slight air of disgust, but also with some sympathy; as the two were neighbors and good friends.
John Jarvi, after taking two pitches, ended the inning with a pop-up fly ball to shallow left field, easily caught by Kochevar. The fourth inning ended with a score of Parkville 2, South Grove, 0.
Parkville took the field for the fifth inning. Olson sat on the home plate end of the bench, drinking some water and relaxing his arm. Beanie sat at the third base end, still sulking over his misplay on the basepaths, but doing his best to keep track in the scorebook of the plays. South Grove came to bat with more determination than before. Kim Knuti, a lefty, pitched well, striking out Coleman, Kochevar, and Zach Edstrom, who had come in to pinch hit for Jake Nichols.
In the bottom of the fifth, Parkville faced a new pitcher and the fresh arm of Phil Koski. Despite his reputation as a wild-armed lefty who walked a good many batters, he struck out the side of Savela, Knuti and Smith. The boys of South Grove picked up on Koski’s success, and came in from the field, ready to bat, chattering of how they were going to tie the game or go ahead.
“Who’s up first?’
“Let’s get some runs!”
Best of all, they had the top of their order coming up.
That momentum carried them well, as they came to bat in the last inning of the last game of the season, down two runs. Catcher Gary Johnson stroked a line drive to center, just out of reach of Savela. Gary ran hard, and seeing the ball roll past the running centerfielder, generated more effort and stretched his way into a safe slide into second base. The next batter, Scott Edstrom, wasted no time at all with a big poke down the left field line. Johnson took off from second and scored easily while Edstrom tore past first and headed for second. The ball came in from left fielder Skaudis but eluded the second baseman Jimmy Nelson, caroming off his glove all the way out into right. Edstrom leaped up and took the chance to dash around third base and slide into home, just beating the throw from Warren Smith and the tag applied by catcher Jarvi. That tied the score, bringing a great round of screams and hollers from the South Grove team.
Coach Nelson went to the mound, directing Knuti out to right field, bringing in Warren Smith to pitch. It was the right move, as Smith and his herky-jerky pitching style deflated the South Grove rally with a ground out from Koski, a swinging strikeout from Swanson, and another out via a right field flyout. With the last Parkville inning to come, the game was tied at 2 a piece.
Koski ran back out to the mound, determined to stop the Parkville batters. Along with him, his team mates ran to their places, pounding their gloves and shouting their encouragement to each other.
“Hold ‘em, now, guys! They’re nothing!”
Parkville responded with the standard insult to pitchers: “Nothin’ on the mound out there!”
Just like South Grove had in the top of the inning, Parkville started with the top of its order. Jimmy Nelson worked Koski for a walk. Gary Pagliaccetti took two pitches before bunting perfectly between the pitcher and first base, sacrificing himself to allow Nelson to get to second. Left fielder Jeff Skaudis put a scare into the other team with a long fly ball that barely went foul down the left field line. Had it stayed fair, the game would have been over. He followed that up with another fly ball, this time an easy out for left fielder Kochevar to pull in and return to the infield. Two out, a runner on second. Charlie Smith, who was brought into the game in the fourth inning, was on deck, next to hit.
Charlie took his place in the batter’s box, kicked a little dirt on the plate and pounded his bat on the ground. His freckled face showed an unexpectedly strong notion that he was going to make a difference in the game. He, like Beanie, was a benchwarmer for most games, but this was to be his chance, as far as he was concerned. He took his stance and glared out at Koski.
The first pitch was inside, spinning Charlie around, almost making his helmet fly off. Gary Johnson caught the ball and teased Charlie, “That was a close one, huh, kid? You better watch out you don’t get hit.”
Charlie took his place again. Koski checked the runner over his left shoulder, wound up and hurled the ball.
Charlie didn’t take time to think. He swung as his coach had taught him; level and with speed. Bat and ball met, sending the ball into a high arc; higher than Peewee league batters usually hit it – but it didn’t go very far. Clearly the ball was going to come down half way down the third base line, just barely in fair territory. Jimmy Nelson took off from second, knowing that with two out you run at the crack of the bat. Koski and third baseman Greg Swanson converged on the spot, eyes on the ball. Each called out “I got it, I got it.” The ball seemed to hang in mid-air, defying gravity over the heads of the two South Grove boys. Neither boy backed off in their pursuit of the ball.
Beanie Herbert, watching the whole thing still sitting by himself at the third base end of the bench, got an idea. He threw the scorebook over his head, jumped up on the bench, cupped his hands around his mouth and aimed a loud, shrill shout at the two boys just a few feet in front of him in his unchanged soprano voice:
“LOOK OUT FOR THE TREE!”
Both Swanson and Koski froze for a split second, put their gloves over their heads, reversed their direction, nearly falling to their knees. The ball plopped untouched between them, bouncing freely as Jimmy Nelson rounded third in full gallop. The shortstop Steve Kottke ran in, picked up the ball and threw to an anxious Gary Johnson, covering home plate. As the throw came in high, Johnson caught the ball and swept a tag, but Nelson had already cleared the plate, scoring the winning run for the Parkville Pirates.
Jubilation erupted from the third base side of the field. The Parkville Pirates could now claim the Mountain Iron Peewee League Championship of 1964. They clapped each other on the back in their joy. In a melee of arms and legs and grand, loud shouts, the Parkville team celebrated as the South Grove team retired to their bench, defeated and dejected.
On his end of the bench, Beanie Herbert jumped down, ran to join the victorious mob, sharing in the joy of being a part the best in team around, but not until he stepped just into fair territory by third base and performed a perfect bow to the spot where the ball had fallen next to his invisible tree.
Copyright April 2015