July 26, 2021 at 3:15 p.m.
4-H softball disciples
For me and my neighborhood chums, the game became incarnate in the form of 4-H softball. But softball was more than a mere pastime for us. It was a higher calling to which we committed our entire beings, a theology we embraced with unbounded devotion.
And we played for free with nary a thought of being paid. Simply playing the game was reward enough. A warm summer evening of softball followed by a post-game Dairy Queen strawberry malt were all we needed. It was a simpler time.
Oh, sure, we did other 4-H stuff besides playing softball. We held meetings, had horticultural and livestock projects and other sundry things. But these activities were a coverup, a bit of subterfuge employed to conceal the true purpose of 4-H, namely, to participate in epic games of softball.
There were enough farm kids in our neighborhood to field two softball teams. The Little Team, which was made up of grade schoolers, and the Big Team, comprised of high school boys along with a smattering of the more talented junior high boys. All of the little kids dreamed of someday making it onto the Big Team. We softball disciples practiced with fanatical devotion. We ate, drank and slept the game. We spent untold hours analyzing nuances and meditating on how we might attain a higher plane of play. In my humble estimation, I was the best right fielder on our team. If only our coach could have somehow seen this.
When I reached the seventh grade, I felt I was ready for the Big Team. I eventually got to play right field on the Big Team a few times, but not because of my athletic abilities. It was more a matter of perseverance – I kept begging the coach to put me in – plus the fact that there were times when the Big Team didn’t have enough players.
By the time I started high school, our team had changed and matured. But the most profound transfiguration was the advent of the windmill pitch.
Softball was traditionally pitched underhand. The pitcher generally cocks his arm back and lets the ball fly. The ball generally moseys toward home plate as if it has all day.
That all changed one post-game evening when a wise man – well, we thought he was pretty smart – stopped by the diamond and started preaching the gospel of windmill pitching.
Windmill pitching works about like it sounds. Instead of lobbing the ball in a lazy arc, the pitcher rapidly whirls his arm a full revolution before releasing the ball. The throwing arm spins at such speeds that it appears it might fly off and land some distance away. With practice, though, windmill pitching can yield a blistering fastball.
And practice is what my cousin, Greg, must have done. When the next softball season arrived, he was throwing windmill pitches that smoked past the batter like little white cannon balls. The ball would thump into the catcher’s mitt with such force that the catcher would often skid backward several feet.
Not everyone was happy with this new and radical pitching ideology. Opposing coaches would protest that windmill pitching was heresy, that Greg’s windup constituted a balk. Umpires would flinch at Greg’s pitches and call them mostly on blind faith. Heretofore pious batters began to spout blasphemies following their futile efforts at hitting Greg’s scorching fastballs.
Because no batter could connect with Greg’s pitches, playing the field was a breeze. We outfielders had ample time to practice our vociferous incantation which went: “Hey, batter, batter, swing, batter!” This chant worked so well that no balls ever made it out to me in right field.
Ah, ‘twas rapturous! The smell of the emerald grass, the aroma of cowhide, the grunt and the whiff as yet another batter furiously fanned the balmy air. Hooting from the safety of right field that the batter should have started his swing yesterday. Such was the stuff that kept the faith alive and justified all of our sacrifices.
I doubt if Greg would have signed on had there been such a thing as a professional softball league back then. He, like me, believed you cannot put a price on something as sacred as the game that is known as 4-H softball.
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: [email protected].
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