By Karl Terry
My earliest memories of playing baseball have to do with my cousins and my brother and I playing ball on Sunday afternoon in my grandparents’ front yard. We used a huge wooden bat and a great big mushy oversized softball, which could be bare-handed without doing too much damage to your fingers.
Later the Hill family, all boys, all born with a bat in one hand and a ball in the other, moved in a quarter mile down the road. That’s when baseball in particular, and sports in general, took on a new meaning at the Terry household. The whole family was sucked into the maw of organized youth sports and summer evenings were never the same.
I started out in Pee Wee league baseball, I believe in the summer of 1967. Doug Hill started a year later, followed a year after that by my brother, Jeff, and Greg Hill. In Jeff’s first year of Pee Wee ball he was on the same team with Doug and the two were a pitcher-catcher duo, with Doug on the mound and Jeff behind the plate. We all played ball non-stop in those days.
Because we lived out in the country, it wasn’t uncommon for either the Hill mom or the Terry mom to load all the kids up for an afternoon of baseball practice or games. It was an early-day form of kids carpool that was woven artfully into an irrigation schedule that my family was maintaining on three farms at that time. Usually in the process of getting to and from practice, the four above named ballplayers helped move irrigation pipe or tubes at least once. Dirt-clod fights were not uncommon on these side trips, especially if you could get the drop on Doug, who had the best arm.
The games were the best though, because my mom and my granddad were nearly always there and dad was there whenever he could be. Dad and granddad mostly knew their limitations at ballgames, and when they had reached them, they went to the car rather than yell at the umps. Not my mother. If things got close and the calls weren’t going our way, she might move down a little closer to the backstop. The greatest embarrassment known to a Little Leaguer is having the ump stop the game to threaten your mom with removal from the ball park if she doesn’t shut up. I’m not saying that ever happened with mom, but it could have.
I was also a catcher, but different from my brother at that position in a few of key ways. First, he was much better at taunting the opposing batters than his brother. He was also better at selling the umpires in his favor. The ultimate difference, however, was the fact that while he was behind the plate, he heard every word spoken behind him in the stands. He even frequently had conversations with the moms from the opposing team.
This was mostly a flaw to his baseball career because he never concentrated on the action on the field as he should be. One night his big ears paid off though.
It was a critical point in the ballgame and what could have been the winning run for the opponent had just crossed the plate on a big play. Only two people in the entire ball park noticed that the runner hadn’t touched third base — my mom and the umpire.
Thinking quickly, instead of blurting it out where the runner could hear and possibly cover his tracks, mom got Jeff’s attention and told him to get the ball. He did, though he didn’t know why. She told him to tag the plate and once again he complied with instructions yelled from the peanut gallery. The umpire’s hand immediately went up in the air, declaring the last runner out and all hell broke loose for a while.
In was just one of many episodes occurred over the years, but it’s the one I always remember when it’s spring and a young man’s fancy turns to baseball.