Eight bruises: a Memory of Wiffle Ball, with thanks to NPR's Fresh Air

July 15, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Originally published on my baseball site, Ol' Abner, on April 18, 2019.

 

Of course, I've been listening to news about the Mueller Report all day like it's a holiday.

I kept listening for the sake of Fresh Air if you will:

a report on pitches from the Tyler Kepner, author of K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches.

This is how pitchers used to scuff the ball or let it be scuffed without throwing the ball away.

You can hear it here.

I was reminded of playing ball with Ben. He was maybe 19 or 20, and he was visiting a lodge in Alaska with some relatives. They planned to float down the river for 6 days but first spent the night at the fishing lodge where I worked.

I sat at the bar with his family.

"He's a professional, you know," his aunt said.

"I bet I can take him," I said.

Silence.

For Ben was known on YouTube for what he did with a wiffle ball. Cut it and throw it and watch it dance.

My first summer in Alaska I bought a wiffle bat and ball in Anchorage during the mid-season break, and the fishing guides and I played: a power line near the fish cleaning table served as the center field fence.

The guides were impressed by my bat speed.

They didn't know I had spent hundreds of hours playing ball with my brothers and cousin at a field named after a professional player and third cousin, Jerry Lumpe.

My twin and I played catch in our 80-foot driveway every single afternoon. He built a backstop out of netting and PVC pipe. Any hits meant sprinting up and down the driveway while the pitcher searched for the ball in the drainage ditch. If the ball got caught in the wet leaves across the street, the hitter kept running.

Back to Alaska. Ben brought his own bat and balls, in case he wanted to add content to his YouTube channel while playing on a wild river in the far north.

He showed me how he scraped plastic away with a kitchen knife.

This time, our field was the lawn in front of the wooden lodge building, with bases punctuated by stinging nettles.

Helpfully, he announced each pitch before he threw it.

He stood 45 feet away. It wasn't the speed, but the movement.

The ball hung up then swooped down. The next one darted from side to side.

I stood as the rain began to fall, swinging away.

Once, I fouled the ball off.

But I could not get the ball in play.

Neither of us wanted to stop playing.

I was mad I couldn't connect.

But after we went to dinner, which I served to Ben and his family, I stepped away for a second.

I looked in the mirror and counted eight bruises the size of wiffle balls.

But Ben said he would still want me on his team.

 


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