Spring Is Here!

| March 22, 2012 | 2 Comments

Tampa is a pretty exciting right now.  The Gasparilla Film Festival starts next week.  Bill Clinton will be in town speaking about the ever-changing global economy and it’s effect on American businesses.  Bruce Springsteen is here for a sold out show just across the channel and Tony Bennett will follow him two days later.  The Joffrey Ballet will also be performing at The Starz next week. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a slump and have played themselves out of the playoffs.  The Yankees will be playing three day games and one night game at the spectacular Steinbrenner Field next week.

That means Spring is here and baseball is in the air.  The Davis Island Little League has already begun and we usually see a few practices and games during the week.  The Island team was the world champion team in either 2007 or 2004.  The facilities are truly spectacular, with four fields and four large batting cages.  Little League baseball is a real sport here. The parents are unbelievably generous and supportive.

I cannot help but remember my favorite baseball story.  My career as a pitcher started at Camp Pasquaney in New Hampshire.  By my junior year at St. George’s, I had a pretty lively arm but no idea how to pitch.  My curveball was a sidearm fastball that was often more lively than my fastball.

After my junior year, I pitched for the Menands American Legion team.  We made it to the state tournament.  I lost the last game of the year but it was great stuff.  I had my first Carroll’s $0.10 hamburger that season.

During my senior year, a few scouts came around to have a look but nothing developed.  I did beat former Met announcer and catcher Fran Healy twice that year, but it wasn’t particularly pretty.

The first day someone really began to teach me how to pitch was playing in the Albany Twilight League in the Summer of ’64, following my senior year.  I had a good, live arm but not much else.  I was introduced to my catcher 15 minutes before my first start.  The game was an afternoon game in Schenectady’s Central Park, where we played a few games every  year.  Most of the games were played at night at Bleeker Stadium.

Anyway, it was hot, very hot.  The team was called Mike’s Neba’s.  Neba was printed across our uniform fronts.  The team’s catcher was Bob Weaver, who I believe still teaches and coaches basketball in Albany.  Bob was a large man.  He had quit professional baseball after battling with Johnny Bench in the Reds Triple A team.  When Bench got the call, Bob finished the season and called it a day.

To see him, you never would have guessed what a great ballplayer he was.  He had girth.  My waistline at that time was 31 inches. I know that because they had a heck of a time finding pants for me.  Bob’s waistline was way over that.  He was a little disheveled, but boy did he love the game.

He caught my warm-up that day.  After about eight minutes of fastballs and sidearm fastballs, he came to the bullpen mound.  I was a little nervous.  “So,” he started.  “What kinda name is Hiland Doolittle?”

“Ummm, well it’s English.”

“Well, tell me.  What does your father call you?”

“Oh, he calls me Garf.”


“Yup.  Garf.”

“I can live with that.  So Garf, I hope you are not going to tell me that you only have that fastball and that sidearm thing are you?”

“Well, I have a terrible curveball.  But, that sidearm is pretty good.  It dances a little.”

“Let’s get this straight.  You won’t be throwin’ that sidearm to any right-handed batters.  Jesus, they can see it two ticks before it leaves your hand.  You throw that thing to right-handers in this league, we’ll run out of balls.”

“Well, we can try the curve if you’re sure.”

“Yuh, I’m sure Garf.”

I was getting pretty uncomfortable.  I threw about five curveballs and Bob signaled that was enough.  He shook his head all the way to the dugout.  He was sweating a lot, a whole lot.  This had the makings of a disaster.

We got out of the first inning pretty handily.  In the second, I walked the leadoff batter.  Weaver came to the mound.  “Garf, you will not be walking the leadoff hitter anymore.  Is that clear?  I don’t care what you have to do, throw strikes to leadoff hitters.  Now look, I’ll cover your ass on this one but that’s it.  No leadoff walks, sport!”

I really had no idea what he was talking about.  I mean, I was the pitcher, right?  I looked to my father who was  in the stands wearing his white boating hat.  He was pretty distinctive and he was calling me Garf.  He was also shaking his head in disgust, just as Weaver had done in the bullpen.  I was getting pretty edgy about this whole summer baseball thing.

On my second pitch to the next batter, the runner broke for second.  Bobby threw him out by a good six feet.  He immediately stood on top of the plate and starting talking to the other team’s bench.  It wasn’t very complimentary.  Here was this great big man cussing out the other team on their home field.  And, there I was, a little whipper-snapper named Garf.

The batter singled sharply to right.  On the first pitch to the following hitter Bobby picked off the runner on first base!  He again defiantly stood on home plate.  While putting his mask back on, he set off a tirade of derogatory statements about the lineage of the opposing players who must have been of Polish and Italian descent.

Meanwhile, my father was cackling aloud from the first baseline bleachers.  I was sure he and my mother were in for a rough time.  The next batter hit a scorcher through the hole between the third baseman and the shortstop.  I was in shock.  Batters were whacking the ball all over the place.  They hadn’t  scored but it certainly wasn’t my fault.  Frankly, I was worried that Weaver had them so po’d I was sure they would throw at me when I came to bat.

Weaver came to the mound.  I had no idea what to expect.

“Well, they’re hitting everything you throw, aren’t they?”

“Yeah.  You think I could throw a sidearm?”

“Are you shitting me?  Just keep mixing the pitches a little but don’t get that hanging curve over the plate.  I’m pretty sure they have the signals or that you are tipping your pitches.”

I am now thinking what? Me? Tipping my pitches?  What the Hell does that even mean?

He continued, “They’re gonna run.  I’m gonna flash you the curve, but you throw the hardest fastball you got.”  He seemed pretty pleased with himself as he walked slowly back behind the plate.  The fans were calling him all kinds of names and they weren’t things you would say aloud on a Sunday afternoon.  My father was pointing at him and shaking his hand like, do what he says.

Somehow we ended up with a 1-2 count.  That as good. The runner on first took off for second as my wretched curveball meandered toward the plate.  The very big man jumped up and was rid of the ball like before he even had it.  The runner wasn’t even close.  Bobby laughed boisterously all the way to the dugout.  My father was jumping up and down like a madman.  Bobby Weaver had just thrown out three runners in one inning.  I was beginning to think that this might work out pretty well.

When we got to the dugout, a longtime friend of Bobby’s, Joe Mosley, was having a great laugh.  He pointed to my father in the white hat and said, “Bobby boy, see that lunatic up there with the white sailor’s hat, uh, he’s in love with you.”

I never told them or anyone else that the lunatic in the white hat was my father. They figured it out the next year during a night game at Bleeker when after a dreadful outing, my father folded his chair and my mother’s chair and left the ballpark when I was yanked.

Anyway, back to my debut.  In the fourth inning, the Schenectady team had a man on second with one out. Weaver was calling for the curveball.  It was too much for me.  I shook him off twice.  He headed to the mound.

“Oh, Jesus!” I thought.

“So, college boy or whatever you are, what’s it gonna be?  They’re creasing your fastball.  We know the curve sucks. What’s it gonna be?”

“Well, I thought I’d throw the hard sidearm. It has more zip than the fastball.”

“Uh huh.  You betcha.”

I remember sort of a dark feeling at that moment.  Sure enough, Booby flashed me the three sign and I agreed. I went into the stretch.  I looked back, then ahead and as soon as my arm started forward, Weaver dropped his glove and stepped outside the plate.  I really got everything into that pitch which was headed right at him.  “Oh my God!” I thought.

Bobby caught my hardest pitch in his bare hands!

I’m going like, “What was that!  What just happened!”

He ambled toward me rubbing the ball with his hands, which were huge and calloused, and his glove tucked under his arm.  He signaled me to open my glove.  With his right hand, he lifted the ball over his head and then slammed it into my open glove. “Here’s you effing fastball,” he said and then walked back behind the plate.

The other team’s bench was rolling on the grass.  I believe several of them had tears running over their faces.

I didn’t shake Bobby off the rest of the year or the next Summer after my freshman year at Randolph Macon.  He taught me how to throw a curveball and a pitiful changeup.  For a while, he had me throwing moon balls every sixth pitch.  My father couldn’t watch those things.

Bobby wasn’t particularly warm and cozy about my style. I think he took me in as a form of self preservation.

When I returned to the Twilight League after the service, I pitched until age 39.  When I came back, Bobby was there a couple more years.  I never shook him off then either.




About the Author:

Filed in: Sports

2 Comments on "Spring Is Here!"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Peter Rowe says:

    I also played baseball with Bob Weaver (Armory Little league) he and my brother David were probably the two BEST players to come from the there at the time.

    Bob was not only a great ball player, but a super person.
    Thanks for the story.

    Peter Rowe


  2. John Conway says:

    More memories. While playing varsity baseball for VI High School in Albany I had managed to go our first six games without a hit (must have been a great glove man). My excuse for this poor batting performance was that I was about 5’3″ and about 120 lbs. Bill Boener, our baseball, basketball and football coach had me batting 9th behind the pitcher. Our 7th game, we were facing Joe Mosley from Cardinal McClusky High, who was then considered one of, if not the best pitcher in the city. I can’t recall if I had my eyes closed or not but somehow I caught the ball on the fat part of the bat and sent a solid single to center field. I was so excited down on first base, bouncing back and forth, that on the second pitch he picked me off. I was never so humiliated in my life. Although, I didn’t know Joe on that fateful day, later in life we became very good friends and I told him the story about that day at Bleeker Stadium. I truly believe, he felt worse about it than I did at the time it happened.
    Keep the memories coming. John


Post a Comment