Written by Charles Hall
I’m now heading into my final year in Little League Baseball, age 12, and I easily made the “A” team. My team, the Mac’s (red uniforms), was part of the Western League. The other 3 teams were the Pirates (green), Sheriff’s Posse (gray), and the Sports (blue). The league had some really good up and coming players, such as Dwayne Casbeer, Tommy Casbeer, Lanny Freeman, Bucky Kimble and Terry Schreiner. But I thought our team had a chance to be the best, and for the first time I was really thinking about winning, as opposed to just playing hard and having fun.
John McElligott and Scott Rogers had both made the All Star team the previous year, and were now a year older and even better than ever. Ernie Hansen was throwing his pitches even faster than last year, if that was possible. We had a good 10 year old pitcher in Danny Roberts, who was demonstrating that he would be able to handle the required 10 year old innings. I had done my throwing/fielding routine all winter, and had grown a little bit bigger. I had started “visualizing” hitting the ball (day dreaming??) and what I would do when the ball went into a gap between the outfielders, for example. Thus, when I did hit the ball there, it was as if I had done it a hundred times already, and I would be pushing to take second base from the instant I made contact. I could hit the ball a little farther than last year (still not a power hitter), and was able to stretch singles into doubles. I was suddenly a lot better hitter, and got a lot of doubles and runs batted in. I scored a lot because I was on base ahead of the big power hitters John and Scott, who both had incredible seasons. It was good to feel that I was contributing on offense much more than last year. I was also a much better shortstop, and my fielding and throws to first base were better than last year. I felt really confident out there!! Like I owned the field. (I had the same sort of great feeling later in life playing football for my Marine team, and also playing men’s soccer)
Pitching, my bread and butter! When the season started, suddenly everything just clicked into place! I was bigger, threw it faster, had even better control, and I had worked hard on my curve ball. I could now throw it exactly where I wanted to from the mound 40’ 6” to home plate. It must have all come together sort of like a perfect storm to form just the right mix for that one year. The distance to home plate was just perfect for my curve ball to break just before reaching the plate, and it evidently moved just the right distance to throw off the batters. My fastball was fast enough and accurate enough to make it hard to hit, and really set up the curve ball. And I think the key point was probably the speed variance between the fastball and the curve must have been just right to keep the hitters off balance (this was definitely not the case the next year in pony league). The age and talent of the young hitters in Little League worked against them, and they just didn’t seem to be able to handle my pitches.
From my perspective on the mound, it was sort of unreal to watch. I knew exactly where each pitch was going, because all I had to do was throw it to the glove of the best Catcher in the league, John McElligott. (My parents absolutely loved John. They thought he “protected” me). He was very good at moving around behind the plate, and he gave me a lot of confidence. I couldn’t believe the hitters couldn’t make contact – it seemed so simple from the mound. But for whatever reason, they couldn’t hit my pitches very often. And when they did, it was often a weak fly ball or a groundout to the infield. Nobody homered off me like Dwayne Casbeer and a couple of others did the previous year. I went 6 wins and 0 losses, and then Ernie Hansen would come in and blow them away the next game. The overall mix of hitting, pitching and fielding made the Mac’s a very good team that year.
I really only have a vivid memory of one game that year, the rest seem to blend together. I only got to pitch against the Sports one time, because they were “rebuilding” and didn’t have the overall talent level. Somehow the schedule worked out just right and I started against them. And I was really on. I couldn’t miss, and John and I were really communicating well. The coaches told me I struck out 15 batters, and there are only 18 outs in a 6 inning game. This seemed like a lot, but the coaches kept a scorecard and assured me that was right. I do remember them just swinging and swinging and missing and missing. Except for Terry Schreiner! He was a great left-handed hitter, and my curve broke into him where he could see it perfectly. I know he got at least 2 hits off me that day. His brother Carl was a really good athlete too.
So now it’s time for the All Star games against the other leagues in town. I was selected, along with Ernie, John, and Scott. Ernie and I were the top 2 pitchers, not bad since we came from the same team. But … my parents had scheduled a 3 week vacation in Destin, Florida. It was really important to them because I think they were searching for retirement property. Well, it was really important to me too !! To play in the All Star game. Since my parents didn’t seem to be budging, John McElligott devised a plan to assure I was here for the game. Anyone who knows Dr. John understands that he always has a plan for everything and everyone, and it’s usually a good plan. (That’s part of what now makes him such a good Doctor). His plan was for me to follow what he and his wonderful dog Roof had done a couple of times to make his point to his Mom. (I admit that my memory is old and not what it used to be, but here’s my story). I was to run away and he would get me out to where he lived at Terminal – the airport. We had often played out there, climbing water towers etc., so I knew the place well. He would hide me out and I could sleep in this big drainage pipe that went under one of the runways. It was about 4’ tall and hundreds of yards long. John would then bring out some of Roof’s food for my supper. Yep, dog food!! LOL FORTUNATELY, the coaches got with my parents before I actually left home, and they ended up delaying our vacation a few days so I could pitch in the first game. I was really happy, and so was Roof !!
The All Star game arrived. I was the starting pitcher, and Dwayne Casbeer was the Catcher, because John McElligott could also play the outfield and we needed both of their big bats in our lineup against the powerhouse Central League (Dick McFarland and several other really good players). We all suited up in the new gray uniforms. I still have several good images in my head from the game. They were the home team, so we batted first. They had a really good pitcher, so I knew I had to be sharp when we took the field. And I was. I was really on, thank goodness. They had never seen a curve before and were obviously having some trouble adjusting. Dwayne and I were working well together, even though we had never been on the same team. Then they got “lucky” and blooped a couple of hits and scratched out a run in the 3rd inning. 1-0 their favor.
Scott Rogers comes up in the 4th inning and we have a runner on first. Scott bombs one to left field, 2 run homer. We are ahead 2-1. It stayed that way until the 6th inning. I come up for my last at bat in Little League, and hit a line shot to center field – probably the hardest ball I had hit in my life. But I didn’t get under it quite enough and the center fielder caught it above his head standing at the fence. That play was soon to loom large.
I go out to pitch my last inning of Little League. I felt confident, and quickly got 2 outs on them. I could just feel the final strikeout coming. 2 strikes on the next batter, and it was time to end this. Our fans in the stands were screaming “give him the curveball” … the same Dads from opposing teams that only 2 weeks earlier had been screaming “no Little Leaguer should be allowed to throw a curveball”. Go figure. Dwayne sets up a little bit outside from the right handed hitter. Perfect. I snap off a really good one starting over the outside part of the plate, and then curving outside several inches. This guy leans out over the plate, and I swear, barely hits it on the end of the bat (remember, he had 2 strikes). Somehow he got it just over Bucky Kimble’s outstretched glove at second base, and just in front of John McElligott charging in from right field. A “seeing eye” lucky bloop single. I couldn’t believe it. But I had to concentrate on the next batter.
John Driver. We got to be good friends a year or so later and often discussed the events of the next few minutes. We were ahead 2-1, 2 outs bottom of the 6th and last inning. I had just given up a very lucky single, so they had the tying run on first base. I quickly got 2 strikes on John Driver. Predictably, the stands were yelling “give him the curveball”. Dwayne Casbeer and I meet for a moment at the mound, and I tell him I want to waste one high and outside (hoping John Driver might swing and miss) and also setting up the next pitch, a curveball inside (I’m sure I had heard Dizzy Dean talk about this on the Saturday baseball game of the week on TV). Dwayne agrees. (Here is where I will wonder til my dying day – would John McElligott have told me to throw something different had he been catching?????). I wound up and threw a fastball just as hard as I possibly could. It was a bad pitch, but that should have been fine. I probably overthrew it, and it went a least a foot further outside, and at least a foot higher than I had intended. That’s ok, it was to be a wasted pitch. But John Driver stepped on the plate and swung as hard as he could. (He later assured me that he did not actually break the rules by stepping on the plate). That ball took off like a rocket, high and deep to right field. All John McElligott could do was stand and watch as that ball sailed at least 50 feet over his head for a game winning 2 run homer. I know it can’t have happened this way, but I swear 2nd baseman Bucky Kimble had picked up my rosin bag and was standing next to me on the mound when the ball finally came back to earth. We lose 3-2.
That was my last pitch in Little League. You can probably tell it still bothers me all these years later, but I congratulated them and took off for Florida a couple of days later. The next year I played for the Furr’s team in Pony League, age 13 and 14. The field seemed much bigger to me. The guys were all older and much better players. The mound was several feet further away from the plate, and my curveball was slow and broke way too soon to be effective. I was mediocre at best. I did play second base all year, but didn’t really enjoy it, so I only played that one year.
I obviously will never forget those times playing Little League baseball. I watch on TV now when they televise the Little League World Series, and marvel at how talented these young players are today. But as good as they are, there’s no way they could possibly have more team spirit than we did. Or fun. I made many lifelong friends. I learned life lessons that I tried to carry with me through college, the Marines, and my working career. Those lessons still apply today.
Make a difference. Be the best that you can be. Thank you Little League Baseball !!!!