Thursday, July 21, 2005

Every Signature Tells a Story: Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas and Coed Softball

I sure can’t blame the other outfielders on The Grand Rapids Press coed softball team if they want to wear football pads when they play along side me.

We’ve had a couple issues with collisions this season.

One of the complexities of the seemingly simple slowpitch coed ball is that you don’t want to appear to be a ball hog, which inherently implies that you don’t think the women teammates can make the plays.

So the other extreme tends to happen, where you hang back and don’t go after balls that you probably should catch. You get points for being a gentleman -- but those are not reflected on the scoreboard.

That happened once this season, and a ball that both a teammate and I each of us could have handled dropped in for a hit. In the next game, I assumed a ball was mine and April — trying not to repeat the prior incident — ran right into me. Luckily, she wasn't hurt, though we got a lecture about calling for the ball.

But two games later there was a gapper that both Gayle and I went charging for. This time I called it, but I don’t think she heard me. Wham-o! We collided at full speed, Gayle’s knee into my thigh.

I gimped off the field -- I think more embarrassed than hurt. Gayle toughed it out and stayed in the game. But later her knee started swelling up, and after a trip to the doctor learned she ruptured something, leaving her with a dark purple brusie that stretches from her calf to lower thigh.

Naturally, I feel horrible. She's wearing some kind of brace and I cringe when I see her limp across the newsroom.

But the crash reminds me of my favorite story about the 1962 Mets. It’s told wonderfully by author Roger Angell in Ken Burns’ epic Baseball documentary.

Centerfielder Richie Ashburn, a future Hall-of-Famer, was forever crashing into shortstop Elio Chacon, who didn’t speak English and didn’t understand when Ashburn was calling for the ball.

So teammate Joe Christopher pulled Ashburn aside and taught him some Spanish. “Yo lo tengo!” which roughly means “I got it!”

So the next time there was a fly ball between them, Ashburn put his new skills to the test, shouting “Yo lo tengo, yo lo tengo.” It worked perfectly, as Chacon backed off.

Except that Ashburn was then knocked flat by leftfielder Frank Thomas, who spoke no Spanish.

I was lucky to meet both Ashburn and Thomas at a card show in the late 1980s that featured a good chunk of the 1962 team, the original Mets.

Photo Updates

A little knowledge, of course, is a very dangerous thing. Now that I've learned how to add photos, I've gone back into some of the earliest posts and updated them. Here are links (which I've fixed, sorry about that) if you are interested:

Pop Shortell, Dave Winfield and Richard Nixon

Terry Nichols and the Rockies (Part One): Coors or the Keynote?

Terry Nichols and the Rockies, (Part Two): Wrangling for a Seat.

Wiffle Balls and the Meaning of Life

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