With a surplus of snow and an acute case of cabin fever weighing heavily upon my psyche, and as MLB pitchers and catchers file into camps in anticipation of their first official workouts, I thought I would share this old post of mine just as a tease, and as a reminder that spring and our favorite pastime is just around the corner ... overly written for effect, but I hope you'll enjoy "The Boys Of Summer."
The brumous August morning that dawned bearing a foreboding threat of rain showers had now given way as radiant sunbeams pierced the billowy clouds as they floated proudly across the cerulean sky ... gentle breezes conducted the dulcet redolence of yellow honeysuckle intermingled with delightful aromas of hot buttered popcorn, hot dogs, boiled peanuts, cotton candy and candied apples throughout the old ballpark ... the temperature had risen to a pleasant 71 degrees ... a perfect day for baseball ... and for the boys of summer.
There was nary a vacant seat in the place ... many folks standing wherever they could gain a suitable view of the playing field ... excited fans had stocked up on food and cold drinks before settling in for the game ... a beautiful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" had just concluded, players had all been announced and the visiting nine had assumed their respective positions on the field as the pitcher took his final warm-up tosses ... excitement grew as the leadoff hitter strolled into the batters' box, then the crusty umpire finally gave the signal while sternly shouting "play ball!"
Butterflies dancing a frenzied version of the "Jitterbug Waltz" in the pit of the young ace's roiling stomach had induced waves of galling nausea, however, this was not uncharted territory for the lanky right-hander as he posed on the mound peering in with a sneer toward the catcher crouched behind home plate ... those butterflies had little to do with fear, but rather his desire to compete, and to win ... the husky catcher dropped a sign ... Gibson unleashed a beautiful bender which veered far from the strike zone, but it danced back in painting the corner of the plate, freezing the stupefied batter in his tracks as the implacable umpire loudly bellowed "Stee-rike!" ... time to showcase the patented fastball ... the scowling flamethrower let loose with a grunt, you could hear the blistering sphere buzzing like an angry bumblebee as it approached the dish, biting in on the hands of the unnerved hitter, coercing him to weakly swing through the pitch as it slapped the catcher's overstuffed mitt with an emphatic pop for yet another exigent "Steee-rike!" ... the now confident hurler received the fuming ball back from the catcher with a smart snap of his Rawlings glove before taking a leisurely stroll like a haughty peafowl around the dusty mound ... those fluttering butterflies were mercifully settling down ... and so was he!
The strapping batsman, his spirit also seared amidst the intense flames of that same competitive fire, had faced crafty pitchers of this caliber countless times in the past, usually with great success, and was determined to thwart the efforts of this worthy opponent glaring defiantly at him from the mound ... on this perfect day for baseball ... Williams believed the cunning righty just might deliver another filthy bender ... he dug in, waggled his bat and patiently waited ... instead it was a hard scorcher, too high and called for a ball ... alright, maybe next pitch ... again he took the sizzling heat for a ball ... Williams wondered if Gibson had lost command of his good stuff, and was hopefully incapable of getting that heater over for a strike ... he was convinced that a lazy curveball would assuredly be forthcoming ... he took a long, deep breath, firmly planted his nails in the sandy soil and anxiously waited like a coiled viper enticing it's prey ... Gibson toed the rubber while coldly staring Williams squarely in the eyes, and with a scowl on his determined face, he propelled the baseball toward the plate with a menacing growl ... the seasoned slugger had it gauged perfectly, the ball looked as large as a watermelon floating toward him in slow motion ... Williams unleashed his trusted Louisville Slugger as smoothly as a lumberjack laying the keen edge of a broadaxe to the base of a jack pine as he made lethal contact with Gibson's meandering offering ... the clobbered orb roared skyward and tauntingly disappeared beyond the leftfield wall before the eyes of the jeering throng.
As Williams triumphantly rounded the diamond, he was showered with a deluge of stinging condemnation from the dispirited, hometown faithful ... Gibson stood motionless on the lonely mound, his head bowed toward the ground in defeat and humiliation ... the home team eventually went on to win the game that day 5 to 4 ... but there is a thin line between the thrill and the agony ... at first glance you might think this story is touching on some fantasy match-up involving the great Hall of Fame pitcher Pack Robert "Bob" Gibson, born in 1935, or maybe the incomparable Hall of Fame slugger Theodore Samuel "Ted" Williams (1918-2002), also known as "The Thumper" ... far from it ... this brief narrative pertains to a game played by a ten-year-old pitcher by the name of Grant Gibson of the Pocahontas Warriors and an eleven-year-old slugger named Jackie Williams of the Clarksville Mudhawks, one in a series of games held in the Little League regional championship tournament in Nashville, Tennessee ... truly a perfect day for baseball ... and for the boys of summer.
"Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel, not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better than someone else. This is the nature of man and the name of the game." --Ted Williams