Watching the playoffs, I felt so bad for the second baseman who made three errors in the same inning. That's enough to be engraved in the record books, but who wants to be remembered that way? My memory took me back to my baseball days once again. I was going to say "glory days", but there were far more ignominious shame days. Like the time I went from hero to goat in about 20 minutes.
We were facing a "junk" pitcher and my team preferred fast balls. I was more intimidated by fast balls, however, and seemed to have little trouble hitting curves and other squiggly things. Well, I did hit his squiggly thing into right field and it was tailing away from the fielder, so I made it to second base. I had knocked in a couple runs and my team made a lot of noise for me. It felt great to be a hero. That doesn't happen very much in the average Joe's life, you know. The next half inning I was playing left field when the other team loaded the bases and this buff looking black kid came to the plate. My center fielder was well experienced in the league, and apparently he knew something about this kid because he beckoned me to move back. I did move back several steps. He kept motioning me to move back, but I felt I was too deep already, and I hoped to be able to catch a lazy fly ball over the infield, rather than allow it to fall in which would let them score one or two runs. Then it happened. This black kid (I wish I knew his name because it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he had made it to the majors) crushed the ball and it was heading my direction. That solid sounding bat immediately tells the outfielder that he better go back for the fly. As my perspective saw the ball rising higher and higher I knew that meant that it would be way over my head by the time it reached my location. I turned my back on the infield and ran top speed, hoping to make one of those circus catches you see on baseball replays. It was a vain hope. We were playing on a field that was built adjacent to another field so that our left field melded into the right field of the other diamond. This ball landed about shortstop position on the other field and one hopped to the fence. By the time I retrieved the ball and tossed it to the relay man, all four runs scored. When the inning was finally over and I came to the bench, not a soul spoke to me. Hero to goat in 20 minutes!
Our team was Southern Pacific Railroad, and our league was dubbed an "industrial league". I'm not sure what that meant, but I think you would call it semi-pro. They tell me that some guy on this team was signed by a major league scout the year before. I had the dubious privilege to be low man on a good roster. I was what you call a utility player. I usually played second, third or outfield. Maybe I played a little short, but not much.
I remember the game when they needed me to play third. That is not my favorite position in hardball. It really is the HOT corner. Early in the game someone hit a scorcher right at me. I'm afraid I looked bad because I turned my head. After all I didn't want to mar my beautiful face. But my glove snared the ball from the ground and I threw him out. A couple innings later here comes another threatening grounder. Again I turned my head, but my hands handled that one too. Once again a nasty ground ball came bounding my direction. Once again I turned my head, but this time the ball skipped instead of taking its expected bounce and passed right between my ankles. I heard the crowd moan in unison, and I cringed. I never looked good at the position, but I was getting the job done up to that point. Now I really looked bad.
I remember when I played American Legion Baseball I made the last out of the season, and the coach cried.
My wife talks as though I was a great ball player, but it seems as though all I can remember is the gaffs. It wasn't a sterling career.