Summer softball games in the cool of the evening provided the best gathering place for a small town with limited entertainment choices. You could watch TV summer reruns, hang out at the local bar or take in the games.
This was serious stuff. Once, a young farmer broke his ankle sliding into second and a new mom nearly had surgery on her hand after she absorbed a swinging bat on her catcher’s glove.
This might be a small town ball but competitiveness doesn’t run small. Players came to win and the fans came to watch them win. This was serious fun.
So one evening we sat in the stands for a tightly-contested battle with spectacular plays. The shortstop fired a hotshot to first that beat the runner by milliseconds. Or at least that’s the way the umpire saw that one. A batter put the ball over the center fielder’s head for a big base-clearing hit.
The score teetered back and forth. The crowd hung on every pitch.
There usually wasn’t an abundance of ballplayers so right field was often reserved for that ninth player who needed a little more seasoning.
My team had a right fielder of the needed-seasoning variety. He was shaped like a fire hydrant but he crouched with his glove in place like he was ready for any hit. We all knew that he appeared prepared but he was as quick as a fire hydrant, too.
The gal sitting next to me leaned over. “He looks just like a butterball.”
“Shush,” I said. “His wife is sitting right down there.” I nodded toward a blonde sitting a row below us and to the right.
“Oops.” Jill lowered her voice. “She’s interviewing me tomorrow.” We both knew in a small town that we were all known including our voices. No hiding behind anonymity.
Then the tight game took my attention away. We were in the ninth. Bases were loaded and tension high. The pitcher leaned in and then swung his arm in an arc, delivering a sizzling strike that the batter turned on too late. The bat cracked as the ball skied into right field.
Jill didn’t hesitate. Leaping into the air, she put her hands around her mouth like a megaphone and shouted out to our right fielder: “Go get that hit, Butterball!”
We didn’t get the win that night. And Jill didn’t get the job, either.