TOM BRYANT: Softball Brings Back Memories of Glory Days
I stood at home plate looking out toward right field. In the distance loomed the Aberdeen water tank, a silent spectator to my afternoon musings.
It hasn't change that much, I thought.
Maybe a lot smaller, and the woods behind the backstop have grown up a bunch. But, man, after 50 years it's hard to believe it's still here.
I was on a trip down memory lane, back to the days when the mighty Aberdeen Red Devils took to the diamond and pursued the nation's sport of baseball. The old field is behind Aberdeen Elementary School and serves as a recreational area for current students. In 1959 it was home base for the boys of summer, our own field of dreams.
It was bright that afternoon. Spring was finally making some headway against the late drabness of winter, and I was in a baseball frame of mind. It's funny how it sneaked up on me. In recent years, baseball has just not been one of my favorite sports, even though I played from Little League to college. I lost interest with the pros after Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battled for Babe Ruth's home run record. I mean the players today hit the ball farther and are stronger and faster. You could even say maybe more talented, especially when you throw in those steroids. But I fear there is one area in which many are seriously behind, and that's character. Now I'm talking the major leagues.
There is hope for baseball, and that's with our youth.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch a tournament not of baseball but, believe it or not, college women's softball. My bride's nephew's daughter, Kara, plays softball on a full scholarship for Wichita State University. Her team participated in a tournament held by UNC at Chapel Hill, and we drove up to watch them play.
Now I haven't seen a lot of softball, much less ladies' softball, but on this outing I was duly impressed. I guess I was expecting the sport I was used to, with the slow arching, lob pitch from the mound that gives the batter time to wind up with all of his strength and tee off for the fence, either a monumental strike or a huge hit. These ladies didn't play that way.
UNC had a young pitcher who could throw the ball as fast as many men. She was a tall girl with a heck of an arm and bat, too, I might mention.
On her first time at the plate, she hit the ball over the left field scoreboard fence.
There were a lot of talented youngsters playing that day. They were really into the sport, and you could tell that they were having a good time. Kara, Linda's young relative, was as smart a second baseman as any male college player I had the opportunity to play with in my career. She was a pleasure to watch on the field. Unfortunately for her team, though, UNC was too tough and Wichita State lost, 7-2.
We had a great time and went back the next day to watch the finals.
I heard the school bell ring up the hill and decided to walk back to my car. On the way I paused at first base, the position I played on that field so many years ago, and remembered some of the boys on my team: Marvin Lewis, a long, lanky shortstop who doubled as pitcher; and Sonny Smith, catcher and also a pitcher. There was H.B. Ritter playing third base, a natural hitter. He and I were teammates from the beginning in Little League. Rounding out the list were David Ruble, a three-letter man, great in all sports, and Jimmy Veasey, second baseman without equal.
In the spring of 1959 we had a lot in common with Kara's softball team and the game they lost in Chapel Hill. That year we played in the finals in Southern Pines for the state championship and lost.
But I don't remember losing being so bad, because like those young ladies in the tournament up at Chapel Hill, we played and lost because of the fun we had and the love of the game.r
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