How The World Wags
By Dave Kiffer
Since he still looks up to me - at least for this week - it leaves me in a delicate situation. It's not like this is one of those "what did you do in the war, daddy" conundrums, but I hate having to admit to him that - unlike everyone else's Dad - I wasn't that great at sports.
We're at the stage where you want to encourage your child with all those "try, try again" platitudes about hard work and persistence getting results. My sporting career is the perfect example of the opposite.
Take Little League for example. You've already read that I couldn't hit a Larry Settje fastball. Well, truth be told, I couldn't hit anyone's fastball, curveball, slowball, underhanded toss....whatever. My lifetime batting average in Little League was a robust .300. I had 10 official at bats (I walked about a dozen times as well) 10 and got three hits. Hitting .300 is pretty good in the major leagues, but we had some folks - now probably the fathers of the Liam's little friends - batting .600 when I was in Little League.
Like I said it wasn't for lack of trying. Dad pitched hundreds of balls to me. I even got Mom to pitch to me in the front yard. I bought one of those rudimentary swing trainers with the ball attached to a string like a tether ball. I read books by Ted Williams and Stan Musial about the "art" of hitting.
Whenever we'd go the beach I'd badger my friends into pitching rocks to me that I would whack with a piece of beachwood (the Alaskan equivalent to big city stickball). I would absolutely crush the rocks time and time again.
Didn't matter. With a big white baseball in a real live game, I couldn't make contact. The ball would be thrown, I would swing and the ball would land safely in the catcher's mitt. Very, very, very rarely the ball and bat would briefly occupy the same space and time and I would get a hit. I never hit a foul ball, I never hit a fly out or a ground out. If I made contact it was a hit. If I didn't, I struck out. Most of the time, I struck out.
I was a good fielder and could throw well, but if you can't hit - even in Little League - you don't play much. I languished for three years in the "minors" and was finally called up my last year because the rules required that 12 year olds be in Little League. It also helped that my minor league coach Don MacMillan was kicked "upstairs" to manage Crystal Dairy, so I suspect he brought me with him.
That whole year, I could tell that Mr. MacMillan remembered a minor league game in which I had come to the field sporting a bat that I had covered in black electricians' tape to mimic Shoeless Joe Jackson's famous "Black Betsy." That game I made contact four times (1 single, 2 doubles and a home run that rolled all the way to the creek that was on the opposite side of Dudley Field!).
I'm sure that Mr. MacMillan was hoping that lightning would strike twice. But in the "big" league, I could make no contact at all. To make matters worse, I had brought an aluminum bat from Seattle earlier in the year. It was the first one in the league and everyone else was borrowing it so they could make that gnarly cool pinging sound when they made contact. The only sound I made with it was the a big empty swoosh as I displaced enough air to cause a seismic event. Say what you want about my swinging and missing, but my empty swings usually had a spectacular velocity. No tentative, checked swings there!
My lack of a "big stick" got me relegated to being a late inning defensive replacement. I once got sent in to pitch one inning and walked three batters and struck out three. Even when I was throwing the ball, no contact could be made!
By the last game of the season, my batting average was a neat .000. I had gone to bat seven times and had struck out seven times. No foul balls. Twenty-one clean whiffs. The most notable strikeout was in the first game of the season against my good friend, the aforementioned Larry Settje. He threw very hard and was a little wild that day. He hit three of the batters before me. So I was up with the bases loaded. Natch, I was really happy to strike out and ski-daddle safely back to the bench.
The last game of the season, I got to start the game at third base because Mr. MacMillan wanted all the 12-year-olds - the "seniors" - to get their last licks in.
Lightning struck again. The first pitch I faced, I swung wildly and was shocked to feel contact. A great, big, wonderful, wrist-ringing "ping." The ball skittered out past the shortstop into the outfield. I froze. Someone behind me - either the catcher or the umpire - shouted "run." I did. It was a clean single.
The next time up, I swung wildly again and this time the ball snaked down the third base line. I ran until I was on second base - a double!
The third time up, I gave my best Babe Ruth impression. I crushed the ball - hit it so hard the sound was more of a "pong" than a "ping." The ball went into a high arc. I flipped the bat aside and started a slow home run trot to first. Unfortunately, it wasn't a home run. It came down about two inches from the top of the center field fence (200 whole feet away!). It ricocheted back toward the infield and by the time I realized the ball was still in play and I needed to run, I was out by a country mile trying to beat the relay into second base. Still, I got credit for a really long single. And the three hits brought my season average up to a semi-spectacular .300.
So I suppose I can tell Liam that I was "big hitter" in Little League. That I hit one of the longest "singles" in Little League history. That I once got three hits in one game. I just won't tell him they were my only three hits.
Contact Dave at email@example.com
Dave Kiffer ©2005