Hello and I hope the day brings you good tidings.
Today is Monday, August 22, 2016. I am here to talk about something that is very near and dear to my heart. Softball. Big shock there. But more specifically, Indian ball and the SSIBC (SouthSide Indian Ball Club) that I have been a part of for four and a half years. I started as a rookie in April of 2012. Being a Rookie means you have to be beer b!tch to all the senior club members as a kind of quasi-hazing. It’s not all that bad and if you aren’t particularly mouthy, you can slip under the radar and not have to do it that much.
Over the handful of years that I have been with the club, more than a few of the faces have changed significantly (figuratively and literally). Many of the guys I started playing with, including the member who recruited me (Joe “Commish” Ritrovato), are no longer active members of the club for various reasons (family obligations, health, etc.). All told I have only been semi-seriously playing softball since 2004. From the time I played my last softball game in middle school (circa 1984), I did play six or seven games at company picnics and for a work team but that was it. There were no composite bats or fielders wearing protective masks or guys my size hitting balls 350 plus feet. My last swings before the almost twenty year break were with a true aluminum bat that had a thin black electrical taped handle grip. The barrel of the bat was the light green of today’s Worth Boogers. If I had to guess, I would say it weighed about thirty ounces. On one of my last swings, the opposing team’s first baseman moved well off the first base line. I waited back and smacked a line drive about two feet fair down the first base line. The first baseman just stood there dumbfounded since most of our hitters were dead-pull hitters. I ended up with a triple and an RBI on the play. The day was hot and dusty and neither of my parents saw it happen much like most of my softball career.
So flash forward to 2012: My friend Commish, who runs the Lager Sluggers Softball Club and the annual Turkeybowl game (flag football for fun and charity) at Fenton Park, recruits me to play Indian ball. I show up to the field which at that time was off Telegraph in South County. The first game was already underway. The hitter was facing the three infielders (about 2/3 as wide as a normal softball field) and about 10-11 outfielders. It was crazy. I saw a bunch of guys I knew mostly from softball reputation and these guys could not buy a hit. Line drives, deep towering fly balls and vicious grounders – all ending up in a glove and very few hits. Unlike softball where one guy can get a hit and a (home)run instantly, this required four guys to get a hit to tally a single run before three outs were tallied. It was amazing and intense. As a regular softball player and being used to hitting with composite bats, it was a little intimidating to swing a wood bat with all those fielders in every conceivable hitting lane. I think that first season I batted about .250 and I felt pretty good about that. By contrast, in regular softball if I hit less than .600 I would feel like the biggest failure on the planet.
So now that I am in my fifth season, my perspective has changed a bit. Indian ball is played on Sunday mornings from spring until late summer. Granted there are some Sunday mornings I would rather sleep in, but getting up and heading to Santa Maria’s for Indian ball is a highlight of my week. There is a lot of new faces this year but the smack talk is still alive and kicking which I think is actually the most entertaining part.
With every swing of the bat, something happens. A squibber, a rocket, a Plinko board grounder, a guy catching a ball with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in his mouth, a line drive to your pitcher’s chest (you pitch to your own team), a driving grab, a bobbled grounder to an infielder, a tip drill catch in the outfield, a ten hopper that knocks over the foul cone, a ball the paints the “Trot-line”, a long fly ball foul, a two-handed snap off, a guy catching a ball with enough pine tar in his glove to stop a woolly mammoth and countless other scenarios. The best plays are when a guy makes a play that he would never make again in his life. That gets the peanut galley going nuts. And with each play, someone spectating has their two cents to add. It’s a great time. At the end of the games, it’s almost irrelevant who wins. Almost.
The Indian ball season is broken up into two parts: the first and second halves. There are four teams. If the respective half winners are not the same team, the two half winners square off for bragging rights and championship jackets. In 2016 with the first half winner already decided, it will come down to the last week (next week, barring bad weather) to decide the second half winner and potentially force a playoff game.
In the midst of the playoff chase for the SSIBC, the club took a moment this past Sunday at Santa Maria to honor one of the club’s greats. Billy Rahm, who had been with the club for over three decades, passed away this summer. Mr. Rahm was a huge part of the club and like Norm from Cheers, everyone knew his name. I was introduced to Billy the very first day I played Indian ball. He was a nice guy and along with Mr. H (Hastey), I think I got a handshake and how are you today from them each and every time I saw them. Between the third and fourth games of the day, all the club’s members in attendance lined up along the foul lines to have a small ceremony to present some of Billy’s family members in attendance with Billy’s Hall Of Fame plaque. When presented with the plaque, his family members spoke with choked up voices about how much Billy loved the club and how much it meant to him, even choosing Indian ball over other family events a times. It was a great moment and it gave me goosebumps to see his family choked up like that.
To share my own Billy moment I will go back a few years ago. The SSIBC hosted a tourney at Wolffs Softball Haven down in Barnhart, Missouri. I was playing on one of the two teams the club had entered. In our third game, we were already down eight runs in the fourth inning and it looked like we might get run-ruled. I came to bat with two runners on and two outs. I hit a three-run home run to the short porch in right field. The next inning we got a couple of runs closer and held the other team scoreless. I came to bat in the sixth inning again with two on and two outs. Again I drove a pitch over the short porch for another three run homer. What made this a little comical was, the right fielder immediately spiking his glove to the ground as soon as I swung the bat since the result was near identical. With a little back and forth I came up again in the extra frame with us trailing by two runs and no one out. The right fielder starts screaming at his pitcher, “Don’t do it! Don’t give him that outside pitch! He’s already hit two (expletive) bombs.” So the pitcher did nothing but throw inside pitches to which I slapped one through the third base-shortstop hole to plate a run. The rest of my guys took it from there and we went on to win by three or four runs (we were the away team). We won the next game and won the tourney. I remember Licker (his real name is Scott Litzinger) asking everyone if they were OK with giving the trophy to Billy. Of course, everyone thought that was a great idea and we presented him with the hard fought trophy. After the games, Billy came up to me and said, “You did the club proud today son.” I took that as a pretty big compliment. If memory serves me right, that was in 2014 and I think that was the year Billy lost his wife but I could be mistaken.
Anyway, I guess this piece was just my way of saying that the SSIBC has become like a family and a bunch of brothers to me. I don’t have any siblings and I haven’t really had any fatherly presence for most of my life so it’s just a nice place to go and feel like you belong. Hope you are up there or out there somewhere Billy. If so hope you are enjoying these last few weeks of Indian summer.
Indian ball wrap up for games on 8-28-2016 with an early 8 a.m. start.
Right out of the gate, it was team #3 (my team) as the visitors versus team #1 (the would be champs). Team #3 needed to win this first game to put pressure on team #1 for the rest of the day. Without a win by team #3 in the first game, the rest of the day was meaningless in the standings but still would have batting race implications.
Team #3 (dark gray shirts) came out swinging…and mostly hitting at’em balls. First three innings for team #3 netted just a single hit and obviously no runs. Team #1 (blue shirts) immediately loaded the bases with three of their first four hitters smashing ground balls for hits but their rally stalled when the next two hitters flew out. The next two frames for them went quietly. Team #3 had an opportunity with two on and one out in the fourth inning but couldn’t muster up any more hits. Again team #1 came to bat and again they were denied in their 4-6 innings as well.
The second half of the season boiled down to our seventh-eighth-ninth innings. If we didn’t find a way to make an ugly run or two to give us a chance…the title would go to team #1 (blue). Our guys dug in and produced two hits with no outs in the eighth inning but then three straight outs dampened that flame of hope. In the ninth, the defense held us hitless and there was the season. For formality purposes we played the bottom half of the 7-8-9 frames and kept team 1 from getting the win but the tie clinched the second half title for them. Congrats to the blue team (team #1) on their first and second half wins. Fun bunch of guys and they had a great year.
To recap the rest of the day, team #1 played game number two with a lot less intensity and lost on a walk-off 4-3 on a ball that slipped through a glove. My team played the third game and we also won on a walk-off 1-0 on a dropped soft liner to the middle of the outfield. Honestly I do not know who won the last game between team 2 and team 4 (orange vs light gray) because I had to scoot to get to a fantasy football draft in Columbia, Illinois. But my team got three points (when we needed four). We played pretty solid defense the last month or so of the season and just could not overcome losing the first four games of each half. Just like in baseball, all the games count the same so it’s best to try to win them all.
Hats off to the blue team and all the guys from the SSIBC. It was the most fun I’ve had in my five seasons with the club and I look forward to next year and will lobby to see if I can be a team captain.
Have a great week everyone. Peace