The Public Eye

printed 08/09/2019

When I played Little League baseball, it was so long ago that we had to make our own bats. And, we only had three bases, because our parents were so poor they couldn’t afford to maintain more than one home.

On the other hand, our pitchers were outstanding, because it was much easier to throw a curve ball with an orange, actual baseballs being in short supply.

I was one of the few players who got traded three times, but the league was so small that it was always to the same team. The manager would tell the other players, “Boys, we’re beefing up the roster with a new player.”

“But he’s already playing with us,” they would reply.

“True, but we’re pretending he’s not, because this is baseball, and real baseball has trades.”

On one occasion — and this is a true story — our volunteer umpire showed up so blasted that he was seeing two baseballs leave the pitcher’s hand.

He’d duck from one, and call the other either a ball or strike, not that the location of the ball had any bearing on his decision.

The pitcher would throw a pitch so far out of the zone that it would need a cab to get back to the plate, and the umpire would bellow, “Shhhtttreeeiiiike!” He’d then look around all pleased with himself as if he had just won a lamp at Bingo.

Most everyone on this one night put up with it, even though the ump’s strike zone was more of a strike region. If the ball stayed in town limits, “Shhhtttreeeiiiike!,” if it sailed off beyond the curve of the horizon, hopped a freight train and lit out for the territories, “Mmmbaawwwwl.”

In other words, he called them the way he saw them, which was infrequently. I suppose you could say he showed no favoritism, but that would assume a member of one team or the other was actually at the plate and that a pitch actually had been thrown.

“Shhhtttreeeiiiike!”

“Hey, ump! We don’t have a batter up yet.”

“Ohhhh. Get one up here then, becaushhh I’m seein’ baseballs everywhere. Look! Here comesh one nowwww. Duck!”

His umpiring career ended late in the game, when the bases were loaded and the kid at bat laid down a bunt that dribbled toward the pitcher.

The pitcher fielded the ball briskly and sent it homeward, as the kid on third raced toward the plate.

The ball, the catcher and the runner converged on home plate in a great eruption of gravel pit-yellow dust. Our seven spectators rose from their seats, the managers, normally confined to their respective dugouts, per league rules, ran to the edge of field and two dozen kids pressed their faces into waffle patterns against the mesh fencing wire that covered the front of the dugout.

The gravel-pit yellow slowly drifted back to earth and the scramble of arms and legs at the plate separated themselves and returned to their rightful owners, as the umpire, crouched like a toad with a bad hamstring, called out in his clearest voice of the day.

“Yerrrr out, you little sonofa----!”

When I played Little League baseball, not only did we have to make our own bats and not only did we have just three bases, we also, for a time, had to call our own games.

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