The game of my life

Memoir-in-progress …

Belle High School, 1981 baseball team
That's me on the far right. I was the only senior on the team. I pitched, played first, some third and was the first choice for DH. I hit .540 for the season.

Tuesday, March 31, 1981, Belle City Park.

The opponent wasn’t much of a test and the score was laughable, even ridiculous. But offensively, it was the single greatest game of my life.

Final score: Belle 38, Chamois 0.

That’s right: Thirty-eight to nothing. I’d joke and say I scored five touchdowns, kicked five extra points and kicked a 59-yard field goal just for grins, except this was a baseball score. And Belle High School did not and still does not have football.

Here’s what I did.

First inning:  Triple on a 3-2 pitch, RBI, scored. Second inning: Singled up the middle, 2 RBI, scored. Third inning: walked on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, RBI, scored. Fourth inning …

Are you ready for this?

First at-bat: Led off with a walk, scored.

Second at-bat (of the fourth inning): The only time I ever batted right-handed in a high school game. With the bases loaded, I hit a line drive that almost killed the shortstop and the left fielder. From the swing of the bat to the ball hitting the fence in left-center, the ball never got more than about 4 feet off the ground. 3 RBI, double, scored. (And I had to slide head-first into second. A good throw would have nailed me. I hit the ball so hard that I didn’t have time to get to second without a little drama).

Third at-bat (of the fourth inning): The bases were loaded. I never hit a ball that far, not even in my wildest dream. Grand slam, 4 RBI, run. The ball probably traveled 400 feet in the air.

So let’s summarize: In the fourth inning alone, seven RBI and three runs scored. We sent 27 batters to the plate. I was stepping from the on-deck circle into the batter’s box to become the 28th batter of the inning, with two on and two out. Before I dug in for my fourth at-bat of the fourth inning, the Chamois coach called his players off the field.

I finished 4-for-4, 2 walks, 6 runs, 11 RBI. Oh … and I hit for the cycle.

That was the offensive game of my life.

But it wasn’t THE game of my life. That came in July 1977. A few weeks earlier my 13-/14-year-old Little League team went to Edgar Springs. I pitched and my first three pitches — literally, one, two, three, bang, bang, bang — were hit for tape-measure home runs. We lost 27-0. I’m still convinced those kids were 16 or 17 — maybe older.

Then they came to our place, the Belle City Park. I pitched. Struck out 15. We went to the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3. My best friend Kenny Shanks doubled with one out and stole third. I came up.

Kenny and I executed the squeeze play four or five times that season. Coach Rafferty knew by the look that Kenny and I exchanged that the squeeze was on. The only sign Coach Rafferty was giving me from the third base box was a militant head-shake that said, “NO!” I slapped the top of my helmet, the pitcher wound up, and I squared to bunt.

And Kenny took off. He was well over half-way to the plate before the pitcher realized what was happening. He stepped off the mound and fired toward the catcher, but Kenny slid and rolled across home plate — and the ball hit me squarely in the middle of the right thigh. (I think it’s still bruised).

4-3. We won!

But wait! The Edgar Springs coach was livid! It was a hit-by-pitch!, he screamed. “The ball was dead! Runner goes back to third!”

Our fans screamed back: the pitcher wasn’t on the rubber when he threw to the plate! He was throwing to get the runner, not throwing to pitch.

The losing coach grasped for anything and changed his argument, pleading for an interference call against me, except I stepped out of the batter’s box at the last moment to give Kenny a chance to complete his game-winning steal of home.

It was pandemonium. Our team was rolling around on the field like we’d beaten the ’27 Yankees to win the World Series, and I was simply rolling around on the ground because I thought my right femur was fractured. The home plate ump walked toward me, apparently ready to send Kenny back to third and call me “out” for batter’s interference.

“He was bringing the pitch,” I told the ump. “He stepped off the rubber.”

The ump called the infield ump over, I repeated to both umps what I’d said, and the infield ump nodded in agreement.

The home plate ump, holding his face mask in one hand, walked halfway toward the mound, pointed at the pitching rubber, and shouted, “BALK!”

End of story. End of game. Belle 4, Edgar Springs 3.

Dramatic enough, but I still like to say Kenny stole home to win the game.

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