Working on the feature story for this week sent me down memory lane.
It was interesting comparing memories with other people. It is amazing what time can do to your memories. Talking to Stan Olsen, Donnie Williams, my high school baseball coach and Randy Berry, a former baseball teammate, helped me remember some of the days when I played centerfield for the Wildcats.
I was a very light-hitting centerfielder for the ’79 team. Randy was a pitcher with a vicious curveball that buckled the knees of many a high school batter.
We played on a lot of really bad fields in those days but didn’t think much of it. Nobody in the area really had a pristine playing field. I also remember that the spring of my senior year was a particularly wet and chilly one, which didn’t help matters.
I remember that our outfield was so uneven and rough that I dreaded when someone hit a hard grounder up the middle. Playing those balls should have been routine, even for a mediocre player like myself. But our outfield was like the proverbial box of chocolates…you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes you got lucky and the ball rolled smoothly into your glove. Sometimes it would take a crazy hop to the left or right and you found yourself chasing what should have been a single as it turned into a double or triple. Other times the uneven ground would cause the ball to pop right up into your chest or worse your face and you would take one for the team as the saying goes.
Carroll County’s outfield was a little smoother but anything hit deep to the outfield would wind up in swampy ground if it had been raining hard in the days leading up to the game. There was a pond beyond the outfield fence and heavy rains made it overflow slightly into the playing field. I remember playing there on hot, humid summer days in Babe Ruth games and the mosquitoes would eat your ankles up. It was a breeding ground for the little pests.
I remember that we played at Grant County very early in the season. It was about 40 degrees and misting rain the whole game. Their field made our field look like Wrigley Field or Great American Ball Park. I remember that we couldn’t wait for the game to be over so that we could get back on the warm bus and head home. I didn’t often have an attitude like that about playing, because I loved it, but that day was truly miserable.
Many of the fields we played on had eccentric characteristics that called for special ground rules. Before the fence was put up at Henry County, you had to hit the ball a really long way in order to get a home run. You could play very deep as an outfielder and keep your opponent’s slugger from getting a home run. I remember once seeing a guy hit the ball so far that it rolled into the tobacco patch that lay beyond left-center field. That one definitely went for a home run. On the other hand, there was almost no foul territory in those days and so you could hit pop foul after pop foul and never be put out. A good hitter could wear a pitcher out waiting for the right pitch.
At Eminence you could hit a short fly ball down the left-field line and get a ground rule double as it went over the embankment behind the end zone of the football field that doubled as the outfield of the baseball field.
I heard recently that Trimble County was getting a new baseball field. Their baseball field had one of the worst infields I have ever seen. I was glad to be an outfielder when we played there. I remember that between the pitcher’s mound and second base there ran a shallow ditch that made playing ground balls up the middle an adventure. To be fair, I haven’t been to a game at Trimble County in a very long time, so I don’t know if the field is still in such poor condition. I do know that the people in Trimble County are excited about finally getting a proper baseball field to play on. Their football field also doubles as the outfield just as it does at Eminence.
At Owen County the light poles were in play. To try and prevent injuries to outfielders they stacked rubber tires around the poles up to about 6 feet. For one unfortunate Wildcat outfielder, Wayne Moody I believe it was, that wasn’t quite high enough as he chased a fly ball and ended up running into one of the light poles. He got quite a serious broken nose out of that deal.
So young Wildcat ball players, count yourself as lucky when you go out onto what is now one of the best fields around. You don’t have to worry about tobacco patches, uneven ground, light poles, ditches or mosquito breeding grounds. You get to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.