The Neatest Play I Ever Saw, 2024 Second Place (Tie)

By Les Tanner

(I didn’t name the two towns that this is about on account of me not wanting to have this come back to bite me, mainly because I’m from one of them.)

It was late August and the day was bright and sunny and warm, just like it is in Idaho this time of year.  A coed slow-pitch softball game was being played between two long-time rival Idaho towns.  Neither town was very big, like a lot of Idaho towns.  The stands were full to overflowing because this was a crucial game.  The winner would advance to the County Tournament on Labor Day.  The loser would just go home.

It had been a pretty good game so far.  The play had not been as ragged as was usually the case with these two teams.  There’d been a few arguments and a scuffle or two.  The pickup umpire, the local high school English teacher, had done her best.

But now the most critical part of the game–of the entire season–had arrived.  It was the last half of the seventh inning, there were two outs, the bases were loaded and the score was 23 to 22 in favor of the visiting team, the Bombers.  The Tigers had already scored 3 runs to get the score just one run behind.  Of course most of the crowd was rooting for the Tigers since this was their home team.

On the other hand, the pitcher for the Bombers was no beginner.  Sue and her husband Ed had played fast-pitch softball together for many years in Boise.  But time and injuries had eventually caught up with both of them. so they had settled for slow-pitch softball—and finally for small-town coed slow-pitch far away from Boise.  They’d moved here so they’d to be close to Sue’s mother.

A bad arm had ended Ed’s career as a pitcher of any sort, so pitching had become Sue’s job,  And the job that faced her now was a really tough one, mainly because the huge guy at the plate had already hit 4 home runs in the game.

But Sue was never one to give up.  The count was 3 and 2, so she had to strike the batter out.  And she was ready.  She hadn’t thrown her secret pitch so far in this game.  It was a pitch she’d worked on very hard to get just right.

She knew the batter was anxious to get this over with.  So she stalled.  She scraped some dirt off the mound.  She retied a shoelace.  She adjusted her shirt collar.  She pounded the ball in her glove.   She took off her hat and wiped her forehead.

Finally, the ump had enough.  “Oh, for pity sakes, play ball!” she called.

The ball left Sue’s hand and sailed in its gentle, lazy arc, spinning just so, giving the ball a slight curve to the left.  Her special, secret pitch. And it had always worked.

That should do it, she thought to herself.  The curve will certainly surprise the batter.

And it did.  But not enough.  His mighty swing hit the ball with the very tip of the bat.  The ball hit the ground, spinning as it did, headed for the gap between first and second.  Diving to her left, Sue fell.  She couldn’t catch the ball, but did manage to stop it.  Still spinning, the ball sat inches from the Sue’s outstretched glove.  She was on her hands and knees but she couldn’t pick it up.  All she could do was nudge the ball a couple of feet with her glove.  With a final lunge, she managed to nudge it again, this time harder and toward first base.

In the meantime, the batter had been taken by surprise and stumbled.  Regaining his balance, he had started toward first base.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  His heft allowed him to score by hitting homers.  But he just couldn’t run, no matter what.

No slow-motion cameras were necessary for the fans who were filming the action with their phones.  It was already happening that way.  What they recorded was a ball rolling slowly but surely toward first base.  A runner moving slowly but surely in the same direction.  A thin and agile but very long first baseman named Ed reaching out, toe on the bag and mitt stretched out as far as possible.  But it wasn’t enough.  He couldn’t reach the moving ball.  So he did the only thing he could do.  He flopped onto his stomach with his toe still touching the bag. He reached out as far as he possibly could, opened his mitt flat on the ground, palm side up, and waited.  It seemed like a century before the ball, as though it had eyes, rolled into the mitt a split second before the runner reached first.

“You are out!” called the ump, making sure to pronounce it correctly.   The home crowd went nuts and began to boo the umpire, but she silenced them almost instantly with a look that too many of them had seen far too often under different circumstances.

The game was over.  The Bombers were going to the County Tournament!

Still on her hands and knees, Sue looked up to see her husband standing there, dirt all over his front.  There was even some on his nose, too.  He was grinning and saying something she couldn’t quite hear.

She grinned back at her husband.  It  sounded like he’d said “What a winner!”

Or maybe it was “What’s for dinner?” Sue never really knew what to expect from Ed.

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