Having gotten caught up watching the World Series; I am reminded that baseball was my first love. There are those who met me in college and after that only know me as a basketball player. But baseball was the sport I grew up on.
I collected baseball cards. Along with some kids on the block (Mark, Lyle, Angelo) we played a game with a deck of special cards showing whether an at bat was a single, double, triple homer, or any number of types of outs. We would play 9-inning games and at night would compute batting averages, slugging percentages and earned run averages. Any affinity I have for math I attribute to calculating those stats for fun.
I played T-Ball, Little League, Wiffle Ball in the alley, pick up games at the park and finally high school baseball where I was a proud M-U Cardinal. We were a relatively small school in the Minneapolis Public School System. Marshall High School merged with University High and we were the only public school in the system covering grades 7-12. The only other school in the system of similar size was Vocational High. Because of our small size. Neither typically had very good sports teams.
There was an occasion my Senior year where we played Vocational in baseball. I played first base. The Vocational starting pitcher was Jeff Doughty and we had history. Jeff was an outstanding basketball player. A 6’4″ guard whose game resembled “Pistol” Pete Maravich. Jeff was flashy, a great dribbler and cocky as hell, talking trash all game. I was my team’s center. 6’6″ and mostly lodged in the paint. We rarely guarded each other when we played. He could drive around me and I could overpower him.
Our teams met in the District Finals in the State Tournament and Vocational was heavily favored. We played on a neutral site and we won. I dropped 34 points on them in my biggest scoring game of the season. We advanced and they went home. When I came to bat against Jeff in a close game. We were both thinking basketball not baseball.
I was very shy in high school. Possibly because I started school a year early and was younger than the girls in my class. Somehow I found myself the afternoon of the game, making out with a girl in an empty locker room. I can’t make you know how rare that was for me and it ended when one of my friends not on the team walked in and discovered us. Shortly afterwards, I took the team bus to the game and took the field against Vocational.
It was a tense situation when I came to bat against Jeff. There were two men on base with two outs. He was an All-City pitcher and I was just an average hitter. He intended to get a little payback and strike me out. As I walked to the plate. My friend who walked in on me earlier arrived at the game and proceeded to tell our mutual friends Shawn and Craig what had transpired. I could see them laughing. One even yelled out, “Say it isn’t true!” I was laughing too and took the first four pitches for a 2-2 count as I couldn’t manage a respectable swing. On the fifth pitch, I laced a fastball intended to strike me out into right-center field over the heads of the outfielders. The field had no fence so there was no automatic home run. I had to make my way around the bases before they could retrieve the ball and throw it home.
I didn’t have sprinter’s speed but I was fairly fast from playing sports year round. I was still laughing and couldn’t manage anything like top speed. My friends stopped laughing momentarily to cheer and encourage me. By the time I reached third base, the coach held me up as he thought I couldn’t have scored. I stood at third base still laughing, not at Jeff Doughty but at my friends who were now critiquing my running in addition to the event in the locker room. I think it was the only triple I ever hit. Even if I’d hit many, I’m sure I would still remember it best.