Twenty Minutes Inside Professional Baseball.
These days, I often find myself recalling little incidents that occurred over the past 50 or 60 years. Usually the common element in these little events is that I screwed up in one way or another. I suppose this kind of reflection is common among those of us who have managed to achieve “elderly” status.
In December of 1978, for instance, the Hawaii Islanders, Honolulu’s minor league baseball team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, was in need of a new General Manager.
A dozen years earlier, I had been the public address announcer for the Islander home games, but that was the sum total of my experience with professional baseball. Undaunted, however, I applied for the G.M. job anyway. And I was hired.
In those days, Islander home games were played in Aloha Stadium, which was owned by the State of Hawaii and run by a staff of civil servants who had seen several Islander GMs come and go. To most of them, I was just someone who had no idea what he was doing and, therefore, would be a frequent source of amusing incidents for the next ten months. They were 100-percent right about that!
But the incident I remember most vividly occurred late one afternoon with a game scheduled for that night. I had pulled on an old Islander uniform and had gotten the OK to shag fly balls while the actual ballplayers took batting practice.
Not more than five minutes after batting practice started, someone in the batting cage hit a towering fly ball than was clearly headed in my direction. And, in a spontaneous conspiracy, three or four nearby ballplayers stood aside to see if I could make the catch.
I remember squinting up into the afternoon sun trying to follow the flight of the ball. Of course, as it started to descend, I lost track of it and just seconds later, it glanced off my glove, struck me on the shoulder, and fell onto the Aloha Stadium turf two feet behind me.
As if it were yesterday, I can still hear two of the players snickering as I scrambled to retrieve the ball and throw it back into the infield.
I’ve probably recalled that incident a hundred times over more than 40 years. Yes, with some embarrassment, but it’s a fact that for 20 minutes on a sunny June afternoon in Hawaii, I was shagging fly balls with a half dozen real professional baseball players.
Never mind the dropped pop-up and the friendly snickering, that’s one memory I’ll always treasure. Of course, only real baseball fans will understand.