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All-Star tournament brings back All-Star memories, sort of

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POSTED: July 14, 2012 12:11 p.m.

It’s going to be fun to be watch Little League baseball again.

I didn’t really get into organized sports until I was 11 or 12 when my dad was stationed inFort Richardson,Alaska.

That meant a short stay in Little League, then on into Babe Ruth League, where believe it or not I eventually made the Fort Richardson All-Star team .

I had a big head, but in truth I was not very good. I could field OK and had a decent arm —I was the ace pitcher on a team that won only one game. But I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a base fiddle, let alone a baseball bat.

Anyway, some memories:

The white cleat threat:

Our coaches were Army NCO.s and tended to talk to us like we were their troops.

During my first year in Babe Ruth League we had one coach during the regular season who also played on the post softball team.

He had white cleats he kept in a shoebox on the bleachers while we practiced and he only had one rule: We weren’t allowed to touch his white cleats. He made that clear the first day of practice.

“Touch my white cleats and I’ll (I can’t put the rest here because it’s a family paper),” he said, sounding kind of like Clint Eastwood.

It was the first time I’d ever heard that particular phrase — and only time I’ve ever heard it used in conjunction with white cleats — and all these years later it still sticks with me.

The great pickoff move:

My best friend for much of that time was a kid named Brian Humphries. He was a good ballplayer and our catcher.

Anyhow, since I tended to walk a lot of runners, we thought up a way to pick them off before they knew what was happening.

In a nutshell, I’d pretend to ignore the runner and he’d give me a signal if they were taking a big lead by digging his right foot in the dirt a certain way. If he moved his foot that way I was supposed to quickly throw to first, thereby catching the runner unawares.

But if Brian moved his left foot a certain way, that was my cue not to throw to first.

Great idea in theory, right?

Well, we go to play a team on Elmendorf Air Force Base and I’m pitching and naturally I walk the first guy up.

Before I can get set to face the next batter, Brian moves his right foot, then suddenly moves his left foot.

Then his right foot again, then his left foot, then both, like he was trying to put out a fire or stomp some ants. All in the span of about 15 seconds.

So at some point, I decide that’s my signal and I turn and throw to first. There were two problems with that. The first is that we’d forgotten to warn the first baseman about our plan.

The second was the guy I was trying to pick off had already gone to second while I was watching Brian’s feet.

There was a third problem, too. There was no fence along the right field line at this field, so after the first baseman ducked to avoid getting hit in the face with the ball it kept going all the way down the street, with the first baseman chasing after it.

The baserunner who’d already stolen second went to third laughing while I picked up a piece of gravel near the mound and threw it at Brian, whom I blamed — being young and hotheaded — for messing up the plan.

We had a powwow between home plate and the mound while our coaches stood by the dugout and looked up at the beautiful Alaskan sky and probably wondered why they’d ever gotten into youth coaching.

“What kind of stupid signal was that,” I asked Brian. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I said, but it was pretty close.

“I started to tell you he was stealing, but then he just kept on going. I was trying to signal you not to throw to first, but to go for second,” Brian said, or something like that. Needless to say, we lost.

One other thing I remember about Brian was that his mom had an obese Siamese cat. It was so fat it couldn’t jump up on the couch.

The fence incident:

During my first year in Babe Ruth, I distinctly recall there were kids who matured early and the rest of us who are still waiting to mature.

One of the kids who matured early was named John Gunn. He was so legendary we mortal kids never called him one name — it was always “John Gunn.”

John Gunn was a multi-sport star and probably was already shaving, even at 14. Heck, he probably started shaving and driving cars when he was 9.

One day I’m in the outfield when our team is playing his and John Gunn hits a bomb to the gap between left and center field. As I ran to get the ball, the center fielder told me to kick it under the fence and hold my arms up.

I obeyed and John Gunn, who had already rounded the bases and was standing at home plate, was sent back to second for a ground rule double.

This is where my trust in my fellow man got me into trouble. Little did I know my own teammate would tell John Gunn that I’d kicked the ball under the fence and robbed him of an inside the park homer. I found out the next time our team played John Gunn’s team, because he was pitching and when I got up to the plate the ball went after my ankles.

I guess I should be happy he wasn’t throwing at my head. But then, John Gunn was too cool to throw beanballs.

Instead, I got hit in legs the first two times I went to bat and decided I deserved it. I didn’t even try to get out of the way the second time and I guess he figured I’d paid my debt to his statistics, because after that he was happy just to strike me out.

An All-Star:

I’d like to say that when I made the All-Star team no one was more surprised than I, but unfortunately I was something of an egomaniac by the time I’d finished up my second season of Babe Ruth. I played all three sports inFortRichardson’s Dependent Youth Activities program and thought I was something of a big time jock, having made All-Star teams in basketball already and being a starting guard, defensive end and punter in football, where there weren’t enough teams to have an All-Star team.

Note: My nickname in football was the Cookie Monster, because the coach who gave it to me thought my helmet made my face look like a Muppet. Back to baseball: We went somewhere in the middle of nowhere for anAlaskadistrict tournament and ran into a pitcher who had arms longer than my whole body.

It wasn’t fair.

He threw 100 mph laser guided bee-bees. I started the game in right field and couldn’t even see the ball when it was my turn to bat ninth. I couldn’t even see the ball from the dugout.

I could see the pitcher rear back with that incredibly long arm, I could see him start to throw and then I could hear a pop and the umpire yelling strike.

I don’t remember if any of us got a hit off that pitcher, who probably grew up to be a lumberjack. I do recall foul tipping a pitch and thinking — “how’d I do that?”

Alas, after striking out my first two trips to the plate, I was benched.

We got creamed.

For some reason, it didn’t bother me much.

Me and a friend had already gotten more interested in a few of the girls sitting in the stands.

After all, baseball is supposed to be fun.

 

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