Saturday, June 11, 2016


I read today that Gordie Howe passed away yesterday, June 10, 2016. I recalled the one time I saw him in person...and other things. The Wallace Babe Ruth All-Stars baseball team won the right to play in the NW Regional Babe Ruth Championship in New Westminister, Canada. I was 15 and had no clue where that was. We were supposed to leave at 7 in the morning and "car pool" from Wallace to New Westminister. The players were to go with various drivers. Don Hulsizer and I were going to go with volunteer drivers Mr. and Mrs. Zook. Mr. Zook arrived, we hoped in and we were on our it turned out to Osburn to pick up Mrs. Zook. When we got there, we waited for her to finish her cup, or cups of coffee, and about two hours later we were on our way. We found the Zooks to be nice and friendly folks. As we headed out past Spokane, we learned that we were going to take the "scenic route". I had no clue what that meant. As we drove on through the day, past what by fifty percent of the accounts in the car scenic landscapes, Don and I resorted to taking pictures of each other in the back seat of the car. By the time we reached New Westminister it was late, almost dark. The team was to be housed with local residents and, by the time we arrived, the other team members had long since been wisked away to where they were going to stay and there were no more volunteers. A few phone calls were made and a volunteer family was located. They were great folks too. As it turned out, they had a very small house and only one small bed and a baby crib. Don fit nicely in the baby crib. The next day at the first game, we were all decked out in our crisp uniforms and our brand spanking new "I" ball caps which designated us as the Idaho State Champions. We were set scheduled to play the home team representative from Canada in the first game. At the beginning of opening ceremonies before our game, it was announced that Gordie Howe was present. At that time I had no clue who Gordie Howe was because, well hockey was not a sport I was very familiar with growing up in Wallace. As it turned out, many years later, I learned  the Gordie Howe was known as "Mr. Hockey" in hockey crazed Canada. I also learned about the " Gordie Howe Hat Trick" that he was known for. The usual "Hat Trick" in hocke is three goals. His was a goal, an assist, and a fight. Ha. I wish I had known that way back then, I would have been more impressed by him at New Westminister and I wouldn't have just been wondering why a hockey player was a big deal at a baseball game.  He came onto the field and all of the infielders were to take turns throwing the ball to him at home plate. I played in the outfield. As each infield position player crisply threw to him, it came Don's turn from second base. He threw a "perfect" short-hop to him that bounced and struck him in the shin. I had to admit that livened things up. The game, well it didn't go so well. We lost something like 10-0. I attributed it to "scenic drive" lag. That afternoon and the next day, we resorted to wearing our "W" caps. The reasoning for this was sound. Wyoming had one their opening game and we figured that with the "W" caps, that we could pass for the Wyoming team. At some point in time we were going to eat with Jerome Bunde, our assistant coach. Great guy. I recall him buying french fries and putting vinegar on them. I thought he was crazy, but he explained that was a Canadian custom. Since that time, I have been suspicious of Canadians. Since we lost out first game, and it was a double elimination tournament (after all it was a long drive to get there) we went into the 'losers' bracket. Basically, it is the "you are screwed" bracket. In order to get to the championship game, we would have to play basically twice as many more games, and not lose. Of the top of my head at this moment, I can't recall how many we played. I do recall that at one of the games there was a lot of excitement. It was reported in the paper the next day; a car had caught fire in the parking lot! Not much was mention about us winning. In one of the games, we played the Alaska team. Their pitcher threw a pitch that would literally drop, like off a table, just an inch or so in front of  home plate. His pitches were not all that fast, but as the ball came in, looking perfect for smacking, when we swung it dropped out of sight. Joe Foster was our manager. He was crafty. Mike Kesten, the manager, had brought literally a sack of sunflower seeds and had gotten him hooked on them. Anyway, Joe, seeing what was going on after the first few batters, told everyone that when they went up to the plate to sweep the ground smooth. That is something that baseball players do, or at least used to do. Now I think the batters have assistants who do it for them. Joe's reason for having each batter carefully smooth out the dirt was not groundskeeping. He explained that, after a couple of batters smoothed the dirt out, the front chalk line of the batter's box towards the pitcher would be obliterated. He explained, once the line was gone, everyone should move up in the batter's box and put their back foot where the front chalk line of the box used to be. Once the chalk line was no longer visible, every batter moved up, and out, of what had been the batter's box. The results were dramatic because from the new batters location we were able to hit the ball before it dropped out of sight. We won and kept winning. We were in the Championship Game. Our opponent was the "Oregon" champs from Klamath Falls. I wasn't quite sure where Klamath Falls was, but I think Oregon was included in our scenic drive. Ha. Anyway, it was a great and well played game. It was 0-0 going into the last bottom of the 7th (last regular) inning.  Oregon was up to bat. They got a base runner on and he  advanced to third on an infield out.  One out and a runner on third. It was not looking good because if the ball was hit anywhere in the outfield the runner would in all likelihood score from third, even if he had to tag up, and if there was a squeeze play where, when the pitcher throws the ball the runner on third breaks towards homeplate, and the batter bunts the ball. By the time an infielder fields the ball and throws to the catcher at home, the runner has safely crossed homeplate. Joe knew just what to do. He moved me from right field into third base to hold the runner close to the bag. He moved the third baseman up the line, about 8 feet from home plate. The first baseman moved up the line to 8 feet from home plate. Joe moved the second baseman to the middle between first and second. The left fielder played closer to center and the center fielder moved closer to right field. We had never practiced this before, but we were set and ready as best we could be. The pitch was thrown and the batter bunted. It went right back to the pitcher. The runner on third who couldn't get a good lead off because I was standing on third base for a possible pick-off, took off anyway. The pitcher fielded the bunt cleanly and threw a perfect strike to the catch who was waiting at home plate. The runner was just starting to slide into home when the ball reached the catcher. As the catcher caught the ball and simultaneously swung his catcher's mitt to tag. In the process of tagging the runner, the ball flopped out of his mitt. 1-0, Oregon won. Over the years, I was able to foregive the catcher, it was a slam bang play, but obviously I haven't forgotten. Ha. Oregon went on to the Babe Ruth World Series...and won easily.

1 comment:

Cedar Street Kid said...

Great story but even I knew who Gordie was, Geesh LOL. Anway, Joe Foster was a great baseball person and was a really good player on his own. Leon said that most of what he knew about baseball, he learned from Joe, Joe was also an incredibly nice guy, He was a friend of our family, old Burke people, you know. Unfortunately, as you may know, he passed away a few years ago. Nice to see you blogging again. Keep it up.