In 1932, Papa was always looking for ways to keep my four sisters, ages 16 to 21, busy. They worked so hard around our 180-acre Nebraska farm that they would get fed up with the place. So Papa asked Mama: “Do you suppose the girls would like to start their own softball team?”
She thought it sounded like a great plan, and before long, four bases were carved out of our front lawn with a pitcher’s base smack in the middle. The outfield, a stand of fir trees north of the house, kept fly balls from crashing into our windows. My two brothers did the pitching and fielding while girls practiced batting. They discovered 16-year-old Helena had a gift of gab, was quite an athlete and wasn’t afraid of fastballs. Helena took no hostages.
Jessie pitched, and Viola played first base. Ella put her glove over her face when a ball came at her, so Papa put her in left field. He recruited my oldest brother Pete, and Pete’s friend Bud Kempter, to manage the team.
Bud talked like people chew gum, a stream of words punctuated with various snorts and noises for emphasis. He appointed himself the Kitten Ball Team Manager. Bud was excited and asked other local girls to join the team too. Among them was Effy Dumpfy. He thought she was hot. It was a one-sided love interest, however, because Effy couldn’t have cared less how Bud Kempter felt.
Unlike Bud, my brother Pete was a diplomat. The two of them spent some time challenging neighboring towns and ended up with a roster of games.
The team, St. Mike’s Avengers, began practice on St. Mike’s baseball diamond and soon convinced the mayor that floodlights needed to be erected because money could be made from night games. That summer, crowds filled the ballfield to the top of the bleachers. Pop and hot dog stands did record business during the games, which were 10 cents admission. Fifty cents would cover a carload. A ticket booth was set up, staffed by our Mama’s Thimble Club. Bud recruited the mayor’s son Mike as bat and water boy.
One evening, the Thimble Club set up a barbecue and sold sandwiches. But trouble erupted among the parents over a fight about Bud’s remark to a girl on an opposing team who had dropped the ball: “Too bad you didn’t catch that with your mouth.” It didn’t sit well. A fight broke out over at the barbecue pit. Mama thought someone was going to fall into the fire, so they never had barbecue again.
Midsummer, we had a playoff with a team from Omaha, Neb. The team arrived in black and gold satin uniforms, with their own bus and signs saying: “Omaha’s Undefeated.” They came from a black school and this left our town dumbfounded. Ladies from the town and various farms put up a buffet supper in the school basement, but the other team didn’t socialize with us.
A fine game was played — with a near-meltdown of St. Mike’s Avengers, but they finally persevered and won. The good citizens gathered in the school basement and did justice to the fine food. They praised the team highly, and record sales were made that night.
Bud Kempter always wanted to give Effy Dumpfy a ride home after practice, but she always had some excuse. Finally she said she would accept his ride after the last game, and Bud went around all that week on cloud nine.
But that night, somebody messed up a play and Bud stormed out on the field mad as a hatter. Someone threw an empty bottle out on the field and Bud tripped over it and fell flat. He sat there a little dazed with his wind knocked out. He drew a ragged breath, jumped up, grabbed that bottle and threw it as hard as he could.
He hit Effy in the back of the head and knocked her out cold. The team had to forfeit the game. They carted Effy off on a stretcher.
Bat boy Mike got giggles that turned into a real gut buster, which he couldn’t control. Bud took offense. He jumped onto Mike and got him into a choke hold. “You laughing at me, you little twit? I didn’t mean to knock her out.”
But he realized Mike couldn’t help himself. Bud couldn’t believe what he’d done. For years, people talked about that summer and the games they played.
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