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     Baseball: “There are only two seasons: winter and baseball.” – Bill Veeck, Major League franchise owner

Ray Strand peered in from the mound, checking the sign from his catcher.

Fastball, I thought, since that was all I’d seen from the Chamberlain pitcher that afternoon.

Besides, why change now, since he’d gotten me twice on strikeouts?

Then, I detected just a hint of a smile from Ray, who was a year ahead of me in school. What did it mean?  Chamberlain was well ahead of our Reliance team – in fact there was little chance that we could mount the kind of rally needed to catch up given his speed and control. He was throwing bullets — maybe as fast as Larry Libner of Presho or even the great Dale Frederick of Chamberlain, who would land a professional tryout in Florida some years later.

I dug in, looking for a fast ball and hoping to make some kind of contact and avoid the humiliation of three strikeouts. The ball floated in, looming as large as a balloon at a birthday party. Ray had released a slow curve and when it finally arrived at the plate, I slapped it over the second baseman’s head for a single.

Standing on first, I looked over at Ray, wondering if he had been experimenting with his curve, or had simply taken pity on me.

No matter. We lost the game and I never asked Ray about it. A great all-around athlete, he went on to become a medical doctor and then wrote books on nutritional medicine.

We are deep into the baseball season. Another Major League All-Star Game is in the books, and Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball.  Little League is over in many places, and American Legion teams are nearing the end of their season.

Some will tell you that football has supplanted baseball as America’s pastime. Or that soccer has captured the hearts of our youth. Don’t believe it. Baseball is summer’s true preoccupation. The home run and hit-and-run. The pitcher shaking off signs, then walking a batter, who proceeds to steal second. The third-base coach, putting his hands to his chest, his ears, his cap and then wiping the signs away.  Or did he?

Iowa native and Hall of Fame pitcher Bobby Feller best explained one of the attractions of baseball: “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”


July 25, 2018