Accidental Tourism – My Life In Football

001In a way this is a story of extreme local interest to the denizens of Owensboro, Kentucky and almost no one else. My hometown, Owensboro is a sports-mad town with a legacy in the state of Kentucky as something of a traditional athletic power. No team in the state has won more State High School baseball titles. Just last year they won a very competitive, basketball-crazy state’s Championship in basketball. Two of the city/county’s other 3 high schools have also won baseball championships – Owensboro Catholic High and Daviess County High. The 4th, Apollo, has actually come close. When I attended there, we won state Track and Field honors regularly and, as many who know me realize, we won the first of 6 eventual school titles in baseball with me patrolling shortstop as a 10th grader. Bear in mind, this was all in open competition with no “subdivisions” based on school size. In other words, we competed with all the teams from Louisville as well – yet another sports mad city, just 10 times larger.

Basketball and football were king, with baseball and track being increasingly popular due to some fairly outrageous successes. Football in Owensboro has consistently produced individuals who competed at the next – and even higher – professional levels. The Friday Night phenomenon so popular in Texas and down South included Owensboro as a preferred local Friday Night recreational ticket, so often followed by dances and mingling events hosted by the school following games. Yes, as always, football was a pageant….a literal pageant, with our crackerjack band, lovely cheerleaders and 5,000 rowdy fans cheering it all.

It was into this matrix where I evolved into a reluctant participant. In my day, kids with some talent played every sport – it was, frankly, one of the secrets to Owensboro’s long legacy of success. Players like Bobby Woodward, Richard Anderson, the incredible All American duo of Dickie Moore and Frank Chambers who I practiced against daily – one, Dickie leading the nation’s small colleges in rushing 3 years in a row and having an evemtual career in the CFL, and the other – Frankie, attending Alabama, along with our coach……… Kenny and Dwight Higgs, Frankie Riley, Gigi Talbott, Ike Brown, Sam Tandy, NBA Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan – it’s a long list – played every sport they could. It was just what we did. You could see many of the same athletes doing well at each sport in their own rights. The coaches were cooperative for the most part and the new muscles required at each sport created a sort of 2 week No Man’s Land of conditioning for each kid, developing and discovering new muscles and pains relative to their sports.

The feeder system of junior high schools fed dollops of players into the matrix, featuring the raw athleticism and sometimes dominance of certain star-quality individuals into a hard-fought mix of competitions. This is where my individual story as an “accidental tourist” begins………..

001

It was in the 8th Grade at Southern Junior High where I began my march to cooperating with talented mesomorphs and psychotics in the sport of football at both the coaching and playing level. I recall the first days of football camp – begun a week or two early, prior to even school openings. It was a bumpy career ride.

Another of my friends saw the wisdom of an early retirement from football, especially after enduring the humiliation of being youngest on the club and getting an unbelievably embarrassing set of football tools, complete with the hazing of the team’s managers whose laughter at the stuff they were reduced to handing out was bully-like but real, unfortunately deep laughter – it was that bad. The helmets handed out to the 8th graders were literally from an earlier era. What we referred to as “’47 Crash Helmets” – real leather helmets, ha ha, and more experimental, weirdly-shaped types of modern helmets (are you reading, Steve Bare, ha ha ha?) provided a completely embarrassing look for each of us as we dredged up equipment handed down from decades of predecessors. Inasmuch as this was my first football since a tentative experience one year in Little League football while living in Bowling Green…………………….

…………………..I actually quit the sport after a few days.

(An angry Father of mine intervened somewhat dramatically. Football was his sport, having played it at Eastern Illinois University in the 30’s and attracting attention with his speed and ability, thus earning the title of “Flash” which my friends teased him remorselessly about. “Flash” actually came from a headline or two celebrating “Freddy The Flash”, who made football look almost easy. He did not agree with my quitting – and did not agree most forcibly, one of his few interventions as a sports Dad. Needless to say, I reported back out to the field in rapid form. The moment did not increase my respect for the sport. I always viewed playing football as a survival sport not particularly suited to my skill set. Yet, there I went, learning the game, playing for 5 straight years at a program well-known for its superlative players.)

In Junior High, I was a fullback/running back on offense and a cornerback on defense. Later, in high school, I became a wide receiver in a pro-style set, occasionally playing Tight End when personnel issues like injuries loomed. I never shook the unreality on the field, no matter what level. I often wondered just exactly why I was playing – what I had done right to earn the dubious distinction of occupying the same field as the incredible players we had who loved it all. That is how uncomfortable I felt with a sport I had zero natural feelings for.

Here are some of this tourist’s memories of the sport:

As an 8th grader, the season dragged on while I waited for my second favorite sport – basketball – to commence. We played 8th Grade football against other teams, so we had our equals to compete with, and it became interesting for that reason. Make no mistake, I really enjoyed my team mates, all personal friends already. And also make no mistake that this level of competing saw some very satisfying times – great defensive hits on my part, the sensation of “team play” where we sacrificed for the betterment of our record and witnessed, first-hand, what “team play” could coalesce into – a winning formula. I recall – vividly to this day –  few truly embarrassing moments of incompetence as I watched Marvin Robinson streak outside for repeated touchdowns on plays where I – the cornerback – was supposed to “turn the play back inside” from the outside, whereupon I did not, ha ha. Marvin just ran around me, untouched for a couple of long TD’s. Learning from mistakes also took place on a visible level. Just like the embarrassment of incompetence provided an alchemy I adjusted to in my sporting life as time rode on, making me better, if addled..

But Fate had a new plan I would never have guessed at, even in the 8th grade. Southern had 5-6 guys kicked off the team for the abhorrent crime of smoking cigarettes – an unusual penalty in some ways, considering the wild number of farmers who grew tobacco in the lush Western Kentucky fields and the humongous warehouses that hosted tobacco auctions in a clearly tobacco-centered town like ours. But nevertheless, these guys were goners, and they were some of our best players, no less. Well, into the breach go I.

It was our final game of the year when I found myself starting in the backfield for the 9th grade – the “big” – team against traditional heavy rival, Daviess County. Yes, I fully admit my excitement at such a weird opportunity. I was most definitely “playing up” now. I felt a strange sense of destiny, warming up, for real. I had planned to do absolutely everything I could to help us win a pivotal, pennant-clinching game against our rivals and competing first-place qualifiers.

So we kick off and hold them enough to make them punt. I was not a defensive player in the game inasmuch as the defense suffered fewer scratches from their end. So out I went to join the first team offense.

Our very first play from scrimmage was for a screen pass from the excellent and very experienced Terry Tyler to yours truly, a young Walter Mitty. The surprise play took advantage of a very startled Daviess County defense and, catching the ball all I saw was a wide open field ahead of me. I was shocked at the crazy opportunity, the first time I had ever benefited from another team’s defensive mistakes. Naturally, I did what I was supposed to do – I ran like hell.

Well, I scored on that play – 65 yards long – our very first play from scrimmage. At the very end of the run, just as I crossed the goal line for the score, I felt the presence of a defender making an attempt at a tackle. To this day the name Barry Beck haunts my dreams. He launched himself at me in the “good old college try” – well into the end zone, no less – and I attempted to vault him, jumping over his sliding self but catching just enough of him to literally pinwheel me in the air, creating a sort of “flip” which I rotated a full 180, coming down hard from a substantial height of leaping momentum and tackler-propulsion. On my way down, I stuck out my left arm to cushion the fall and I heard my arm snap. Completing my fall, I lay there for a moment with the ball in my right arm, satisfied about the score with a warm feeling. I then took a closer inventory, lying there, of my arm and I suddenly had a sinking feeling that I was looking at 2 elbows. My arm had broken between the elbow and wrist, making a literal “L” out of the forearm. I mean, there was absolutely no doubt I had the first broken bone I had ever seen this close-up. I remember Roy Kennedy’s eyes as he looked at me through the tiny gap in his helmet, and then watched him turn to throw up.

(Interestingly, (if you are a ghoul) my Mother reminds me that she had only just shown up to the game – it was that early in the contest. Walking into the stands to join my Dad, she asked “So how are we doing?” in all her innocent hopes, even before she sat down. My Dad pointed out a cluster of people standing and leaning into a player on the ground in the end zone. “Your son is on the bottom of that pile.”)

Well, I was driven to the local hospital where I remember seeing my rather breathless parents arrive. Walking in the door with a towel over my arm, I remember the sounds of my huge football cleats hitting the slick tile floor, then finding myself in the air again as I slipped and fell, right back onto my back. Finally lying down for a doctor’s perusal, I recall the sense of comfort that mom and Dad had joined me here. The doc told me to count backwards from 100 and I got to about 97.

I remember waking up in the Recovery Room, alone and quiet. I looked down and saw this cast on my left arm – a whole new deal. None of the implications for the future loomed at all. I was also merely the 3rd kid on that team who had broken his arm playing football that year, including Jerry “Jumbo” Elliot’s compound fracture – a “Kevin Ware” type injury with protruding split bone featured –  just for an arm and not a leg – during a completely average play. It was my last visit to a hospital for sickness or injury until 2011, lol, a span of 49 years.

Mom and dad showed up, concerned and loving, God bless them, and even brought a magazine – a Sports Illustrated – a fave of mine back then. As we sat talking, here comes the denouement of the day.

Coach (Yogi) Meadors came into the room, all smiles and concern. After quickly getting the questions in about my state, naturally I asked him the results of the game.

“Steve, we got beat 27-0. Your touchdown didn’t count because we were offsides on the play. It was called back.”

Thus began my love/hate relationship with football.

The next season saw me in a far more prominent role. As starting fullback, I got a number of carries and learned quite a bit about twisting and turning, doing complete 360’s – spins – to keep balance and deal with initial hits. I began becoming a far more efficient cornerback, having learned my lesson about “containing” the play in front of me and learning to throw myself in some organized manner at ball carriers. It was a season of successes, actually, and I even had this 75 yard punt to brag about as the team’s kicker, a ball that hit the frozen ground of that day and literally received a prop boost as it bounded away down the ‘frozen tundra’ of that exceedingly cold day. The only real negative of the season was my bursting through the line on a dive play right up the middle and receiving a helmet in my face after 3 yards, hit by a large middle linebacker who broke my nose – yes, through the face masks. Bleeding on the bench at the halftime break, my coach was livid at how we played and he questioned my courage. It seemed like such an incongruous thing – after my broken nose, I still never missed a play. I recorded the humiliating event as yet another strike against the sport in my world. We won the game, 7-0, on a literally last second, 60 yard pass from Landy Lawrence to Gerald Woods, our athletic freak of nature

The next season was very real. Showing up at high school practice now, as a 10th grader, we endured summer two a day practices run by the local psychotic, Ralph Genito, who had played his own football at the University of Kentucky during their highlight season of all time on the Orange Bowl #3 ranked team and whose coach was the legendary Bear Bryant. Genito was a football-mad semi-tyrant who developed an animus towards me early on. Channeling The Bear, his view of the world was that there was football………………………and that’s about it outside of flirting at the local Country Club in his role as lifeguard, ha ha. But I digress.

The camp he ran that season, before school even began, was one of the most brutal experiences of my life. Later on, when I went through Basic Training in the Army, I found the process suspiciously easy. I wondered if I was somehow missing the difficulties others faced as I pranced through basic with a smile, never bothered in the least by the physical nature of the process. I credit Genito with preparing me for the military very well indeed. That initial set of practices saw our numbers of participants steadily decreasing as people quit, finally resulting in a football team consisting of 31 players only. Yes, it was that bad.

Next post – Steve discovers what a concussion is.

Favorite Pictures, Favorite Projects

With this title, this could probably be one heck of a long series. Just the same, as I sit mending from my medical misadventures of recent vintage, “recollection” – history – is in the air. It just is what it is and I am a passenger on this “big blue ball”.

Play this here tune whilst you read. ūüėČ

(I invite you to click on the pictures, most of which enlarge, sometimes dramatically. But it will kill the music if you do, ha ha. I am a diabolical DJ. Read first, then enlarge, that’s my advice.)

The accidental impact of my career in landscaping, which began as a diverting and hard-worked but somehow¬†satisfying mode of making a living in 1970, has become much more than that, 45 years later. Through all of the years of partial regret at actually “working for a living”, the trade for me bloomed at various times into blossoms I would never have recognized at the onset. For example, who knew I would eventually design – and install – projects¬†which would¬†actually win awards? There were even a few which won awards I was not even aware of until much later. 001 The Best and Worst ¬† The Best: Standing with a client and collecting the final check, listening to something like this is the best part: “Wow, Steve. I know it would be pretty but I never expected anything like this!” There are unfortunately, no pictures for this sort of thrill. Those are in our hearts and minds. ūüėČ

Second Best:¬† Standing with my foreman after the finishing touches are placed. My Pictures0001 The Worst: (in picture form) 2009-mud-race-4 Here, in no set order, are those projects I am proudest of………….. AlenaandDad LOL, OK. I’m proud of my daughter. She was a major project that worked out well enough. Now teaching Yoga in San Diego. ūüėČ 001Where was I?

Oh yeah………..A project we worried into existence over a few years was at my Reno Business partner Bill and Donna Hermant’s home. It began with us working over a¬†frightfully bare and dusty failure of a landscape and was undoubtedly part of the appeal to Bill at the idea of having himself a partner in the landscaping business. oct1139-800 ¬† The very first thing we did was to install his wife’s most precious desire – a waterfall or two and a creek. oct1025 ¬† Having finished that – in between projects elsewhere, we worried his house into a fairly splendid landscape – one he was delighted to host parties at for his and my own crews. 001 Here are pictures “down the road a piece” in terms of time. 001 001 001 001 001 The transition from dusty, bare and foreboding to lush, green and welcoming is one of the rewards of the landscape building trade. Needless to say, the clients who receive all this excellent and totally focused attention usually feel pretty darn good about themselves after we leave. 3 This project was a 10 acre extravaganza we did for a home builder/developer who hand-picked his landscaper – me – and who gave “Carte Blanche” to design and install. LOL, those circumstances alone were enough to feel good about, but the artistic and engineering problems so rife with this project – (all water is from a well with a limited amount to be used for the landscape) – and the drainage issues which nearly wiped us out in mid-project (thanks to a careless neighbor) – made for some very serious concentration all the way through the 6 months we worked there. Doug-and-Ed-020 001 From this……. 001 To this……. 001 001 From this………. Picture8To this: 001 What began as a puzzle…………… 001 Sure enough worked out pretty well………… SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA 001 Bottom line on both cases – the clients were quite pleased. The very bottom line? ¬†I was pleased as well. Later on, we’ll move on to some other faves……….. 001 ¬† SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

001

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA001bubble rock001 001 001001img008

001 001 001

Running A Landscape Business – Part 1

Finally, I arrive at the nuts and bolts in my semi-autobiographical rendition of a life in the landscaping business. I apologize for taking such a long break in posting, but – hey – it’s my blog and I’ll blog if I want to. ¬†ūüėČ

Another miscreant – John Bufton – and I were working for the largest maintenance business in Vancouver, BC in 1978 – now known as David Hunter Garden Centers. While together, we had long talks about the world around us and, among other thoughts, we found a mutual interest in trying to go off alone in a business. John, in fact, already had a few “side jobs” where he spent his “off days”, working his butt off for a couple of wealthy contacts, courtesy of his Mother who was in Real Estate. As we spoke, we realized we brought mutual strengths to the idea – John with a local connection and existing contracts and a deep history of lawn and garden maintenance, and me, with abundant experience in estimating and installing landscape construction projects. We made a business plan of sorts – believing a Spring start and the abundant work involving “power-raking” – the removal of thatch and moss built up through the cool, damp Winters of the Great Northwest – which was highly profitable – could supply our financing. From that, we would attempt to form a “base”, a ‘bread and butter’ aspect of the business in the form of maintenance contracts for homes throughout the city.

John’s mother co-signed for a loan to purchase a beater pickup truck, we invested our pay into purchasing hand-outs, prime for Spring labor, which we would distribute door-to-door to likely customers. In February we began, quitting at Hunter and venturing out on our own, dazed but explosively hopeful. Our handouts were a complete success – actually far beyond what we had imagined. In fact, John began complaining about the radical numbers of calls. Nevertheless, it was what we had asked for and so commenced a fairly robust season. After one day we were able to buy our very own weedeater and in ensuing days, we purchased all the maintenance machinery and tools we would need for the entire year. After a week, we were on our way! We were bursting at the seams, happy, tired and full of optimism.

It wasn’t long until we had some landscaping to look at. Over the course of the first month of business, we acquired a $28,000 contract to upgrade a series of apartments managed by one of our newly-acquired maintenance contracts. It required designing and a small hand-drawn idea of our intentions relative to the places and was impressive enough to please the client. Suddenly, we were a 2 crew operation and we purchased yet another beater truck. We entered the Federal and Provincial Era, where we began complying with the standards of employment in general, submitting taxes and deducting them from wages. Within 3 months, we had become “Bona Fide”. It was a heady period, to say the least.

We pretty much did everything right and we certainly could not be faulted for effort. We worked constantly. However, in this success, we encountered the beginnings of our eventual dissolution. The landscaping end of the business had encountered a subdivision of one acre lots during the period of serious economic expansion, house-flipping and people making humongous money as house prices skyrocketed locally. Fortunes were being made and lost over the housing bubble of the late 70’s in British Columbia and we experienced our first loss. Someone decided not to pay – or actually, could not pay. And this after an incredibly busy season. The timing was dreadful inasmuch as we had plowed our money into the business itself. Suddenly, the landscaping end of things realized its inherent risks, certainly compared to lawn and garden maintenance, which was sufficient unto itself, easily done and very predictable.

We found ourselves at odds over directions and John – who had 3 beautiful baby boys – was feeling pressure not only from his wife and family but from himself over realizing the inherent risks in the trade of landscaping. We became poor again, quickly enough, and John expressed his willingness to separate. Aside from it being a literal study in what can go wrong in business, it was somewhat heart-breaking. It felt sloppy and depressing, and this after a year where we were as busy as anyone in the entire town.

I spent most of that Winter in a funk. It was difficult resigning myself to going back to work for someone else, but it seemed the only way to survive. I felt alone and despairing. And then help came from a surprising source.

I got an offer from someone who wanted to help some small business as a silent partner. Our efforts had not gone unnoticed and he lived in the neighborhood of one acre homes which I had had such a difficult time leaving, since literally everyone there hired me as they moved in. He called a mutual friend who highly recommended me as someone who he might be interested in investing in. It was serendipitous, strange and relieving. As a former IRS (Canada Version) agent and an accountant, he was set up to be the most incredibly apt person to help I could have found. As we spoke, I suddenly understood he was dead serious. My heart was a’ flutter.

So with Spring approaching and a couple of small projects underway, John went onward to his life’s work without me. In a year, so incredibly much had happened no one had time to remind ourselves of the actual events – a miasma of happenings complete with small stories, a lot of success, some tragedies and an amazingly eventful series of events.

Ray soon showed up at my place with a brand new 1980, dual wheel 1 Ton Ford truck with a flatbed which raised and lowered by electric motor. It was a dream machine, the envy of the city dump! (Let it be known here and now that the girls liked it too!). Clean and sleek, it could handle the landscaping chores in ways which shot our productivity through the roof.

We moved back into the famous one acre lot territory, this time taking no prisoners and designing stuff like mad. We also acquired a couple of small commercial contracts which I had estimated for and with an eye towards moving towards a much larger commercial side of the business. There was big money there. Little did we realize we were attracting attention from larger fish. Well, we worked hard and met some amazing people.

(We did a project for Leslie Nielson’s older brother, redoing his entire back yard and fence, patio and raised bed planters. This was the pre-Airplane, pre- Detective Frank Dubbin Leslie Nielsen, whose other brother at that time was the head of the New Democratic party in the national capital – a major political player. I only name drop like this to mention that each man – who we met – was an absolute gas of a person – just nice as could be and warmly appreciative of our efforts.)

It became this sort of highlight of the season because the entire year was composed of such small successes and this project was a minor one financially but not without major fun. It was a great year and we did about $384,000 in total volume, in 1980 dollars. Extrapolated to now, that’s about $750,000. People were noticing and our reputation had become excellent.

Winter in Vancouver is a fairly bizarre thing. While I spent later years not missing one day of week day work, generally we shut down the landscaping during December to mid February. Say 2-3 months. It is actually welcomed by owners and planners as it gives a period to take a breath and assess directions and processes. Oh yeah – and have a beer.

During this down period, I got approached by another interested party who had money, bulldozers, back hoes and whose home I had worked on laboriously dynamiting trees, scraping 10 acres of land and then decorating it up in my own trademark ways. Mario – an Italian with toys and attitude – approached both Ray and I with a deal: Bid on the largest work in the Province and he would help finance the delayed payment schedules, provide machinery for the work and actually attend work every day like a working partner. Inasmuch as he was a home builder and a successful one, his record was pretty impeccable for profits. To Ray and I, it was a near no-brainer. Onward and upwards. So we two became 3. The only caveat was that we would need projects to work on, lol. If I could supply a contract, Mario would join. Suddenly my onus became clear. I had to acquire contracts.

For the next 45 days, I spent every waking hour in front of blueprints, estimating them. I would visit literally every major construction company in Vancouver and surrounding towns, asking to be put on their bid lists and begging for blueprints from which to draw and submit estimates. Finally, I got a call.

I visited this business – a $20 Million a year construction firm who was looking at new landscaping companies because of some unfortunate events with others. My price interested them but my approach interested them more. They allowed me to explain my history, assessed my principle partners and awarded us an $84,000 contract to begin in a few weeks. I drew up a contract, showed it to Ray and Mario and suddenly we were a viable business. We began the contract the day we could start, with Mario unloading his bulldozer and us pushing dirt which was partially covered in snow. For the next 60 days, no one took a day off and we put in 12 hours per day whereupon we finished to an immensely-pleased client. We hired one other person and no more, lol. We did it all.

In the meantime, I was still fielding calls and bidding projects. We were awarded another one – this one far larger – which I failed to even look at. In fact, the day we were to begin, as we were toting our equipment jobwards, I suddenly realized – along with my partners – that I hadn’t the remotest idea where it was! Both the other guys were shocked – I had been so thorough with the other ones. I became nervous, lol, as we approached the place. But as we arrived, the project supervisor came out and introduced himself. Word of our competence had spread and he was asking if we felt we could somehow manage to take on some extra work, prior to the landscaping.

“Duh”, was my reply. ūüėČ

He wanted us to build retaining walls out of pressure treated 6″ x 6″‘s, at 5 different locations on the site, each of them over 100′ long. Each location required 3 walls of 3’ high apiece. It was an enormous undertaking. He asked for a price and we huddled. Between the 3 of us, we came up with a figure and he gave the go ahead after a brief call to his office. Suddenly, we had 3 months of very profitable work ahead of us. It was a dream.

 

Baseball Stories – Twice Told Tales

In late May of 1966, Owensboro Senior High School hooked up with a crackerjack Shelby County team in the semifinals of the Kentucky Boys State Baseball Tournament for what would end up being One For The Ages. It remains legendary for me and those who participated – as well as establishing various still-unbroken records, now some 50 years later. One would have to believe that, having won the State just 2 years prior, in 1964, Owensboro would be rated as a slight favorite. We had two absolute Ace pitchers in Wayne Greenwell and Danny Howes, each of which had ERA’s one needed an electron microscope to find, each under 1.00. Each had improved their games from “already very good”, to plain dominant.

In our first game, we played perennial competitor and tournament rival Paducah Tilghman and beat them 1-0 behind a perfectly awesome pitching performance by Danny. The ballgame had the standard key moments but, in the last analysis, it was a game for pitchers who grossly over-matched hitters on both teams. For ball players, these games have their own elements of fascination. Like Major League baseball’s World Series or Playoffs, every single pitch thrown is an epic story. Moments of pressure are completely constant. It is a game of nerves.

I recall a beautiful late Spring Kentucky day, a bit warm but sunny with little if any wind. To call it “baseball weather” would be insulting to the Perfection of the day. Played at the University of Kentucky’s home field in Lexington, the field itself was especially well-groomed and, for an infielder such as myself, very true, at least during early innings until the dirt got chewed up a bit by the spikes worn by base runners and crossed by players entering and exiting during inning changes. Predictable ground balls¬†are an infielder’s dream, while the sordid realities of bad bounces plague a shortstop’s night dreams like a platoon of Steven King clowns.

Shelby County had won the state basketball championship that season, just a few months earlier. Featuring future college All American, Mike Casey, who played shortstop they also had speedster Bill Busey and Ron Ritter, a hulking big sucker who could throw BB’s. Inasmuch as Ritter had won their first ballgame, they went with lefty Tom Hayden for a while.

As soon as the game got underway, there was action. Busey was the ballgame’s second batter and he hit an impossibly hot, worm-burning ground ball by our third baseman, down the line almost immediately into foul territory and which diabolically kept rolling, even beyond the fence which ended around 5 feet to the left of the line. Well, the ball was ruled “in play” even beyond the fence, a curious and unique local rule we were not familiar with and which Jack admitted he felt guilty for not advising us of. Our left fielder, Landy Lawrence temporarily gave up on chasing it down until Jack began screaming from our dugout to pursue and play it. By the time he corralled it relayed the ball to me and I threw it home, Busey easily slid under the tag for the first run of the game, now 4 minutes old. It was frankly bizarre and just a singularly freaky score. But it sure would matter.

Irritated, Greenwell proceeded to begin what became an absolutely overwhelming performance, mixing his sharp-breaking and exceedingly accurate curve ball with enough speed to startle hitters into submission.

In our next at bats, I led off with a sharply hit single to left. I had learned to steal bases, having found more speed than ever my senior year and gauging pitcher tendencies to an extent that I was about 95% successful on my steals during the season. I think I was thrown out once and even then, it was because a second baseman literally blocked the base. That I “got even” later is another story.

So I stole second base early on in the count. With the lefty on the mound, I had always found¬†it incredibly easier to swipe third base. Plus, many pitchers were simply not accustomed to players stealing third. I went ahead and did so right away, so we had the tying run in position right away. This would happen 2 more times. I got on base 2 times more by the 5th inning, stole second and/or third and waited there – for “Godot”. I never scored.

I remember being on second base after one of the steals glancing at Casey at shortstop who was smiling as if he had some hidden joke. It caught my eye.

“You’re stealin’ third, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Next pitch,” I smiled back. He laughed hard. I took off and made it. I looked back with a grin and he pointed at me. I think he swore, but I can’t be sure. (We met after the game and exchanged laughs and family introductions. Mike was a good guy.)

Meanwhile, both pitchers were excellent. While we hit their lefty hard, we could not group any hits together enough to even score a run until, finally, Greenwell hit a towering shot with a runner on second that bounced over the fence, 380 feet away. Alas, we had finally broken through and scored the tying run. But, with that blast, Wayne caused a pitching change, bringing the hard-throwing Ritter in who caused us no end of tribulation. He shut us down that inning – he shut me down for the rest of the game – and produced very little room for optimism. He was throwing aspirin tablets up there.

We continued on past the regulation distance of 7 innings with neither pitcher yielding anything whatsoever. Wayne was simply nasty, but so was Ritter. Each potential threat was usually disposed of with strike outs, in fact.

In the 17th, Casey hit this diabolical blooper between me and center-fielder Billy Wellman. We collided, grotesquely – the hardest “hit” I’d ever felt in baseball – ¬†a total surprise – ¬†and my worst collision ever. I had the ball in my glove but the collision jarred it loose and Casey ended up with a double. A sacrifice bunt on their part later which led to a bobble, then an uncharacteristically bad throw by Bobby Hupp, plated¬†a run and they scored again on another error – we blinked first.¬† Speaking of my experience of tight games, these were games which we typically won. We had so often waited for another team to break. This time it was us. Jack;s comment after the game: “We usually win games like this, but this one was not in the cards.”

5 and a half hours after the first pitch, we departed the field darn near in tears.

We mounted a tiny rally in the bottom of the 17th with Tommy Jones getting a hit but Ritter did his work and struck the last 2 players out. Our deflation was total. It was an empty sensation, especially in view of what Greenwell had accomplished on a strictly individual basis.

In my lexicon of Impressive Baseball Accomplishments, I’m not sure anyone will ever top what Wayne did that game. He must have thrown 200 pitches, for one thing. But of primary interest is the fact that he struck out 27 batters in a State Championship ball game.

27

Remarkably as well, he walked two batters – the same guy twice – Intentionally. No more.

(Actually, Owensboro has had a pitcher strike out more in one game, believe it or not, and it also came with Jack as head coach. Bobby Woodward once struck out 31 batters against Greenville in a massively ridiculous game where the opposing pitcher and a future Major Leaguer struck out 23 himself. It was a 14 inning game.)

The Shelby County game was the longest game – still – in Kentucky High School State Tournament History. The strikeout total is so overwhelmingly record-setting, there is no one close for second place. These days of 100 pitch limits so fashionable in the modern game, Wayne would have been gone in the 7th inning. I mean, 27 strikeouts is 81 pitches all alone!

The defeat was a bitter pill. Exhausted, Shelby County was beaten by Ashland in the Finals.

It’s somewhat ironic that the most iconic game I ever played in was a loss. The elements which took us so far over so many long years all played into the fact that we were there – vying for a State Championship at the highest levels – and with the amazing performance by Wayne Greenwell on a strictly individual basis which we now get to tell our grandkids about.

ViewScan_0026