Like a hole in one on the golf course, a double play at home plate in an American softball game is pretty rare. Nevertheless, with the help of a perfect throw and two enthusiastic base runners, I pulled one off. Not only that, but I’m a hero in the eyes of my twelve-year-old son, Ray. That makes it a triple play at home.
The improbable setting for the miraculous double play was initiated when Ray and I joined our branch’s fathers and sons team. Our Philadelphia Stake athletic director set the schedule for Media Branch, Pennsylvania, versus Pitman Ward, New Jersey, at seven o’clock on a beautiful Wednesday evening. In high spirits, ten of us piled into two cars. Without any actual practices, naively thinking we could play the outdoor American game of softball, we set out to beat Pitman.
The Pitman team was well prepared. They had a good field, spiked shoes, uniform shirts, caps, and a wheeled plastic trash container filled with bats, balls, and gloves—and they were experienced. Their shortstop fielded short grounders like it was nothing. Twenty-three years old and physically adept, he had played on several winning teams. Our shortshop was my twelve-year-old son, playing in the first real game of his life.
The most inexperienced members of the Pitman team were two husky teenagers, playing as catcher and roving fielder.
Our team roster read more like the list of participants at a Boy Scout clambake than that of a prizewinning softball aggregation. Our branch president is a high school English teacher who has scarcely played before, let alone stood in the hot spot at left field with a gang of heavy hitters at bat. He’s a great guy, personable and talented. With his boys he runs five miles every morning before breakfast while his wife tags along on a bicycle. He is developing a special tutoring program for slow readers and makes coats, shirts, and trousers for himself and his three sons. His recognized tailoring ability also had him engaged in creating his sister-in-law’s wedding gown. In the meantime, as you might easily have guessed, out of six fly balls we thought were right in his glove, he caught only two.
At first base we fielded the branch president’s son, Gene. * A fourteen-year-old athlete, the boy does a double forward somersault from the low diving board, is a member of his high school track team, is an Eagle Scout, and can pitch the ball to home plate for a split second putout. His thirteen-year-old brother, at third base, is a musician, singer, and First Class Scout. They both appreciate the fact that their dad devotes a good deal of time to them.
At second base we fielded an eleven-year-old Second Class Scout. A good (for his age) athlete, he stopped a fast grounder and threw the runner out at first, but no one would ever hit the ball to him again.
Our right fielder was a riot. A rugged young weight lifter, he’s a whiz at cricket. That’s right, an Englishman and an engineer, but someone who had yet to see his first game of American softball. John is an energetic and likable chap to have around, but his ability to judge fly balls usually left him running in a circle thirty feet from the best catching position. Once, when a well-hit fly came directly at him, he gamely stuck up a hand to catch it. After that first solid whack of a hard ball on a bare hand, he wasn’t overly sure he was ready to catch that crazy sphere again. Maybe he was smarter than we guessed in not getting any closer to the ball than was absolutely safe.
At the roving fielder’s spot we played a retired Army first sergeant who will never see fifty again. Barrel-chested, jovial, a natural leader, and counselor to the branch president, he proved he can’t catch fly balls in a big wicker basket—or a ball glove. One of the balls he didn’t hang onto was to set the stage for our double play at home plate.
Our pitcher is not yet a member of the Church. Tall and lean, he looked good in the pitcher’s box and at bat. Much to the delight of his daughter, he hit a long fly ball into left centerfield and made a spectacular slide into third base. Unfortunately he was forced to return to the pitching mound when our second-base Boy Scout whacked a line drive straight at their shortstop’s head.
My younger days included some catching experience with a fast-pitch league in Utah. But that was before I joined the navy at the age of seventeen. Even so, I’m still in fair condition, thanks to twenty-five active years in the navy and the exercise of keeping a three-story house painted and watertight. Three pop fouls had given me a chance to look good behind the plate. John the Englishman, my son, and our preacher-teacher-tailor were kind enough to comment about it. Though the pop flies were easy to snag, I appreciated their acknowledgments, especially when Ray flashed a big grin and said, “Nice catch, Dad.”
I had also lucked out by hitting a fast ground ball into their pitcher’s feet. Dave, our teenage star in centerfield, had previously walloped a solid triple and came roaring in for our first score, while I managed to beat the throw to first. The fact that their pitcher was a thoroughly rounded thirty-year-old man in the 5-foot, 9-inch, 250-pound class had had nothing to do with his being unable to get that spinning ball under control in a hurry. Nevertheless, it was a real pleasure to grin back at Ray when, with a twinkle in his cheery brown eyes, he nonchalantly tossed me a “Good hit, Dad!”
Then came the fifth inning. Pitman had runners on first and second when their next batter pounded a high fly toward our “old soldier” in short left field. The runner at first base was only nineteen, their third baseman and fastest man. He recognized the odds and scooted toward second, knowing full well he could beat a throw back to first base in case of accident. The runner at second eased into a long lead just as the ball ricocheted onto the grass. The two-man footrace was on.
But they failed to account for Dave. Earlier he’d made two spectacular running catches in center field, one of them in a daring lunge right behind second base. By the time the runners rounded third base in tandem, Dave had made it from center to short left field. He took a quick toss from the sergeant and heaved a beautiful relay pitch toward home. It came in hip high—right at the plate. As I eased a couple of feet to the left to make an easy, though resounding, left-handed catch, I had only to move my glove three inches to tag the first runner on the hip. But that second guy was as good a dancer as he was a runner. For half a second I feared he might get around me. However, making an instinctive lunge, I tabbed him on the backside as he did a precarious imitation of a whooping crane on his right foot.
After the next out my son dashed in from shortstop. His gleaming brown eyes sparkled with joy, and he sported a giant grin. He was happy, but not half so pleased as I was with his admiring comment:
“Boy! That was some catch! And you got two men out!”
We lost that game 21 to 1, yet I’m a hero in my son’s eyes. I’m proud of him also. He’s an A student, a First Class Scout, the president of his class and the science club at school, and he loves to tease his big sister and his mom. His mother calls him her “Ray of sunshine.”
I have the feeling that I lucked out on the only triple play at home in the history of American softball, and we had a whale of a lot of fun in the process. But then again, it’s not all luck when a busy father takes time to spend an evening with his son.
Roland Gene Brown, Jr., was a respected cross-country runner on the Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, high school track team though he was only in the ninth grade of junior high school. While practicing with a friend near his home on the evening of October 9, 1970, in preparation for a Delaware County meet, he collapsed. Gene died later that evening at a nearby hospital where his father and grandfather, who had been timing the practice, had taken him for treatment. This young Eagle Scout, who had appeared to be in splendid physical condition, had suffered a congestive cardiac and respiratory failure. Four skilled physicians could not rescue him from his final challenge with life, and the autopsy failed to reveal the cause of the congestion. Gene’s parents placed these words on a ribbon across his casket: “Our Eagle Has Flown Home.”