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Big Chuck

June 6, 2011

I Was Just Thinking: How a softball game can conjure youthful memories

While listening to a sports report at the radio station last week, the high score tallies for local youth softball games struck me as unusual. Eighteen, 20, 27 runs and more. Geez, I thought. What does a game like that look like?

So, I set out to see for myself.

The combatants at the game I chose to observe were the young teenage ladies from the Schenevus Middle School Dragons playing the Laurens Leopards. The venue was the friendly confines of the fireman's field ballpark in Mt. Vision.

Weather conditions at game time were perfect. Attendance was around 25 spectators.

Now, let me say first that the score was high, very high, with the winning team scoring more than 10 runs ahead of its opponent. I stopped counting at 25 runs for the winner.

Who won? It doesn't matter.

The game was terrific. Of course, because of the size of the field, you can literally be sitting within earshot of these 13- and 14-year-old players. You listen in as they get their signals from their coaches, and you can hear their "pepper talk" among their teammates. It was serious stuff.

The setting in Mt. Vision was a real snapshot of Americana. A well-manicured ball field, surrounded by lush green forests. The sky shifted from brilliant baby-blue to ominous gray and then back to baby blue. The clouds were thick, white and moving quickly overhead. The temperature was in the high 70s. All-in-all a perfect day for a ball game. The hot dogs were fired up at the concession stand. Joe, the umpire, was a fireplug of a man, as wide as he was tall. He looked like he had jumped off the front page of a Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell cover. "Steee-rriikke three!" Even his official bellow was a throwback to the baseball games I would listen to coming out of my dad's radio teetering on his workbench out in the garage.

Softball is not for sissies. These girls were tough, determined and laser-focused on the game. There were crushing long drives, diving mid-air catches and furious feet-first slides into home plate. The two teams showed as much grit and determination as you would expect from much higher grade-level play action.

One girl injured a thumb while at bat. Joe called "tiiiimmee ouuutt!" He gently assured her to "take as much time as you need, honey." Foul balls danced around the hoods of too-closely parked cars. Puppies darted around under the stands. The base coaches performed their mime routines professionally, signaling steals with the typical ball cap-to-knee cap-to-ear lobe hand flutters known to all of us from MLB on television. The team uniforms were bright and attractive, the safety equipment each young girl wore was proper and comforting, and the whole setting was one of fierce, yet convivial, competitiveness.

I really enjoyed the game. A lot. The winners celebrated with high fives and team cheers. The losers took it all in stride, and in fact, the teams seemed to gel together afterward. I can't wait to go to my next youth softball game. It brought back great memories of when I was their age.

My baseball career was brief and completely un-noteworthy. I played on the Sidney Blue Jays (little league, not school teams) when I was 13. I never had a hit, never slid into home, never played in a championship season and retired (to the relief of my teammates) after my second season. But recalling my youthful sports play, I realize how little has changed in the 50 years since I donned the proud Blue Jay uniform.

The field at the Sidney Moose Club was well-maintained and was ringed with a thicket of tall, green trees much like the one in Mt. Vision is today. The hot dogs were ready to go at game time, the base coaches (usually our insurance guy, or teacher or dentist) would urge us around the bases with hand mimickery that has changed little since the dawn of baseball. The crowds in the stands (small in number but loud in spirit) would cheer our every move. Although mercifully short, I remember my days as a Blue Jay with wistful fondness. And I can conjure it up in an instant.

In fact, now that I think of it, our umpire back in 1960 looked and sounded just like Joe did out in Mt. Vision last week.

Congratulations to both the Schenevus and Laurens girls softball teams. And thanks for letting me revisit a memory of my youth that I had long forgotten.

I'll catch you in two ...

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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