Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
Ted Williams (1918-2002)
No one has come up with a substitute for hard work.
Pitcher Satchel Paige played most of his years of baseball before the Major Leagues were opened up to play for African-Americans. Despite this, he was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971.
Left fielder Ted Williams played his entire Major League career with the Boston Red Sox. In 1941, he hit .406 (the person to hit at least .400). The Hall-of-Famer’s statistics are even more incredible when one realizes that he served in the military during both World War II and the Korean War as an aviator.
Little League baseball fills many youngsters’ late spring and early summer with dreams. For their love of the game comes to life with another season.
America’s pastime sparkles in the Magic City each summer. One of their own, Dave McNally, pitches for the Baltimore Orioles in the big leagues, and he has earned a World Series ring.
Boys throughout the city dream of filling those shoes of their local baseball hero. Alas, one team seems left outside the baselines, experiencing very little success.
They are called “Baseball’s Misfits” in the Central Heights League. Sponsored by the local Masonic Lodge, their nickname is the Masons. Over the past few seasons, many have labeled the team with stinging epitaphs. Other boys can sometimes be so cruel.
Their uniforms look like they are several seasons past their prime. The fading numbers and letters perfectly describe the team’s fortunes over the past couple of seasons . . . zero wins!
Could fortunes be changing for this band of misfits?
A new coach arrives on the scene, with a refreshing outlook for this team. Coach Pete, assisted by Zup, brings along his three sons, and they join a roster filled with a Laird, Zupan, Luetke, Olson, and a trio of Hjellum’s.
A sense of confidence begins to brew among the players. Could their field of dreams finally come true?
With coaches Pete and Zup guiding, the team learns more about the game. They teach and reteach, with patience and conviction, baseball’s fundamentals. More importantly, they build a positive spirit within the team.
The season rolls out, and the boys take the field with a new sense of believing in their field of dreams. However, other contending teams still look down at these former misfits. Watching the Masons, they see new coaches, a few added players, and the same old, fading uniforms. Sorry boys, not this season!
Playing through their schedule, the boys match wins with the other top team. People begin to take notice of this new team on the block. They look legitimate.
Entering the final game, the team needs one more win to capture the league championship. Fueled by past disappointments and demeaning ridicule, their destiny will now be fulfilled. League Champions!
Taking their championship dreams one step further, the team moves on to the city tournament. Here awaits a field of champions from the other neighborhood leagues in the city.
Losing in the semifinals dashes their ultimate dream. Despite the tears, the boys have experienced an amazing season, fulfilling their summer of dreams.
Special Note: While this account has been embellished a bit, the story is true. I had the pleasure to play on this team as a 12-year old. If you go back to the picture, you can find my Dad and two brothers (far left in the back, Coach Pete; front row far left, Doug; front row far right, Greg; and in the second row, second from the right is yours truly).
In the film, “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford, Roy Hobbs finally gets his big chance to step into the batter’s box. Here is the scene from the film. Indeed, life and baseball find ways to complement each other.
The right fielder just happens to be the newest boy in the neighborhood. His family makes their new home down on Lexington Drive, not far from a park with a baseball diamond.
A group of boys organize pick-up baseball games every morning during the summer at the park’s diamond. The right fielder shows up, eager to play, but he is the final player picked for one of the teams.
Few of the other boys put much faith in the smallish right fielder’s short stature. His glove is well-worn as the seasoned leather molds around his small hand, and his tattered jeans feature a gash at the knee which provides for some extra ventilation. He wears a faded cap with the Brooklyn Dodgers “B” logo still showing.
On most pick-up baseball teams, whoever plays right field is usually one of its weaker players with not much of a glove, little speed, and a dreadfully weak throwing arm. Willing to play right field serves as a consolation prize for being picked last.
The right fielder humbly accepts his position. He is hungry to play ball, and he just wants to fit in with the other boys.
He enjoys a decent game at the plate with a couple of solid hits. His teammates begin to take notice of his skills. The right fielder has yet to see a ball hit his way.
The score remains tied with two outs now in the bottom of the final inning. A runner stands in position to score from second base as he waits for a much needed hit to bring home the winning run.
With the crack of the bat, the runner is on a dead sprint to third base on his way to home plate. The ball has been hit like a shot into right field. The right fielder makes a quick jump on the sharp hit, fields the ball cleanly, and sets up his feet for a throw to the catcher.
The runner is rounding third base, and the field is buzzing with excitement. The catcher positions himself just in front of home plate as he prepares to receive the right fielder’s throw.
With a hop and a step, the right fielder uncorks a frozen rope of a throw. It carries low toward the waiting catcher. The runner looks to be a dead duck. The throw arrives at home plate well ahead of the runner.
The catcher flinches as the ball skips off of the turf in front of the plate. With a perfect bounce up, the ball arrives well ahead of the runner. Sadly, the catcher misjudges the throw, and it bounds over his glove into his body.
Runner safe! Game over!
With the game over, the rest of the boys discover they have a pretty darn good right fielder. They’ve never seen a throw quite like his.
Sportscaster Joe Buck has been sidelined with the postponement of the Major League Baseball season. The legendary play-by-play announcer has been looking for opportunities to stay in the game. Let’s join Joe Buck, live on the air.
Good afternoon baseball fans! Coming from the home of Billy and Tony Bennett is today’s Backyard Home Run Derby.
This amazing duo will be challenging each other as pitcher and batter with a whiffle ball and bat. While most of the sporting world has been silent with their contests, these two brothers have definitely discovered their niche.
Billy has been assigned as the pitcher in today’s contest. His assignment will be to prevent any and all home runs. His brother, Tony . . . yes, he’s named after the famous crooner . . . will be stepping into the batter’s box to crush one of Billy’s fastballs out of the park.
Let’s set the scene. The Bennett’s backyard is a formidable challenge for both pitcher and batter. Home plate is located in the corner of the yard up next to the house. The pitcher’s mound is tucked behind Mom’s favorite rose bushes. The outfield fence is lined with a forest of Lombardy poplar trees . . . the wall looks quite reminiscent of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster.”
Billy stands ready on the mound to face Tony. Freddie, their neighbor friend, has volunteered to be both the catcher and the umpire.
Tony steps into the batter’s box. He looks all set.
From behind the roses, Billy winds up with his first pitch. “Strike One!”
Tony watches the fleeting fastball cross the plate without even taking a swing. I guess he’s sorting out the speed of Tony’s stuff.
Billy receives his sign from Freddie. The pitch is on its way.
Swing and a miss. “Strike Two!”
Tony steps out of the batter’s box. What’s this?
Defiantly, he points his bat toward the massive outfield wall. Yes folks, Tony is calling his shot just like the Babe did at Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series between the powerful Yankees and the upset-minded Cubs.
Tony steps back into the batter’s box, digging both feet into the plush, green grass.
Billy takes the sign from Freddie. It looks like another fastball will be on its way.
Here’s comes the pitch.
[Crack of the bat crushing the ball]
Deep to center field. Is it enough? Gone!!
Easily clearing the majestic center field wall . . . a tape measure shot into the next yard . . . splashing into the Snyder’s backyard swimming pool. Mickey Mantle would be proud!
There you have it baseball fans. Tony is one up in today’s Backyard Home Run Derby.
We will pause for a commercial break while the game ball is retrieved from its watery splashdown. We’ll be right back with more of this backyard classic.
In 1989, Kevin Costner starred in “Field of Dreams” along with a cast that includes Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster (in his final film role).
Much of the Oscar-nominated Best Picture was filmed in Iowa on a farm near Dyersville. The film site is still there today (including the famous ball field and corn field along with the family home).
The public can visit the site (free of charge), but the best time to go is in mid-July through late August when the corn field is more mature and tall in height. The field is located just northeast of Dyersville on a paved road