By Brent Davis, editor.
America's national pastime is gearing up for another season. Exhibition games have begun and player evaluations are underway. The "boys of summer" may be dealing with frigid temperatures in some regions of the country, but the enthusiasm they have for the game provides a layer of insulation that is difficult to penetrate.
Recently, my wife and I watched the movie "Trouble with the Curve." Clint Eastwood stars as an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves. His eyesight isn't what it used to be, so he has to rely on his interpretation of the sounds of the game. In player in particular catches his attention. Along the way, he imparts his knowledge to his daughter, played by Amy Adams. It's a good movie, even if baseball is not of interest to the viewer. If you want to know more, watch the movie.
Those who have played the game know immediately what Clint meant by listening to the sounds of the game. I don't know if it still applies to aluminum bats, but way back in the day when I played baseball, it was easy to tell where a ball was heading in the outfield by listening to the crack of the wood bat when it made contact with a pitch.
However, there was one sound that struck fear into a batter and I heard it rarely. It was the whistle of a fast ball and the pop of the catchers mitt when is passed in a blur. I heard this particular noise only once in my six years of little league and pony league ball in Benton. Fortunately for me, it came from a teammate.
Steve McPherson was a tall, lanky guy. He was all arms and legs with a build similar to a scarecrow. This visual combination made his talent as a pitcher that much more deceptive.
Before our games would start, I would play catch with Steve and play the part of catcher. He would slowly increase the speed of each pitch until he was adequately warm to face our opponent. I knew he was in his groove when the whistle and pop occurred. There was no change in his deliver, his tempo or his effort. He was deceptively fast
Of course, the other team heard it, too. They knew the sound as well. I can't say for sure, but I have no doubt that when that first pop hit the air, the other team would turn and watch. Steve and I knew they would. It was part of the reason for warming up in the first place. I wasn't the normal catcher. I was too tall for the position. I played first base, the traditional home for the tallest person on the team.
What we didn't show the other team during the pre-game warm up was the wicked change-up that Steve had perfected. After a few quick pops of the catchers mitt, he would sneak in his off-speed pitch and freeze the batter in their cleats. It was an amazing feat to watch.
The odds of any player making it to the big leagues is a difficult task with odds stacked against the player. Saline County is blessed with ample representation in the major leagues and a thriving youth baseball program.
Dreams of playing in the major league are rooted in every youngster who hits the diamond every year. As we age, some of our favorite memories of youth were contained within our own field of dreams.
The sounds and smells stay with us. The aroma of a leather gloved aged by sweat, sun and rain is like none other. The smell of a baseball duly worn by dirt, grass and impact of bat is unique. But the whistle of a fast ball followed by the pop of a catchers mitt still brings a smile to my face all these decades since.
At heart, I am still one of the boys of summer. I have a feeling I am not alone.