The score was tied, runners at second and third. I was at bat with a full count, three balls and two strikes. Our 8-year-old neighbor boy, Joe, was pitching in the cow pasture where we played in 1968 in Arletta.
I hit a weak grounder that slipped between the first and second basemen, bouncing over grass hummocks to the outfield. Alpha, our black Labrador retriever and best outfielder, raced for the ball. I pounded toward first base, taking care not to step in the squishy wet green cow pies along the way.
Alpha adeptly caught the ball in the air and ran toward my brother Chris, who was playing catcher. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. She was a fast dog.
“Here, Alpha! Here, Alpha!” Chris called urgently. Obeying, Alpha ran straight toward him.
I pumped my legs faster, stretching to reach the dried cow pie that marked first base. Chris had a good arm and it was going to be close. I looked over my shoulder for an update, just in time to see Alpha merrily passing by Chris, just out of arm’s reach, the ball still in her slobbery mouth.
Chris took off after Alpha and I took off for second base, someone’s jacket piled in a heap on the ground. Alpha danced away from Chris as I stomped the jacket and headed for third. Frank, Joe’s older brother, guarded his baseball cap, which marked third base.
Alpha darted past Chris one more time and headed toward Frank, who made a lunge at her. I jumped over them, tagged Frank’s hat and rounded for home as Alpha continued on toward the infielder, my sister Cathy. She caught Alpha and wrestled the ball away. She threw the ball hard to Chris, who was ready for it, but I was fast.
I tagged the final dried cow pie, marking home base just before the ball got to Chris.
Home run! It always paid to be Alpha’s best friend.
This is baseball the way I remember it: bright sun, flies, the grassy smell of fresh cow pies, and fun. With four kids in our family, along with five brothers and a cow pasture next door, we almost always had enough people to field two bare-bones teams.
When we didn’t, we played change-up, where the players rotated through the field positions and finally came up to bat. There was usually no need to keep scores with this kind of baseball.
Alpha filled in as outfielder. Sometimes we stacked the deck by hiding my sister Cathy’s brown eyeglasses on a like-colored cow pie. Her vision without the glasses was so bad that she couldn’t find them on her own. One of the things that helped me to survive childhood was that I could outrun all three of my siblings when I had to.
I’ve been to the stadium in Seattle, with seats so high your nose starts to bleed and players looking like ants on the artificial turf below. This is sterile baseball. The players have perfected the sport to the point where they rarely make mistakes, and therefore nothing unexpected ever happens.
I went to a no-hitter once with my husband, Gary, a serious baseball fan. It was so boring! The pitcher pitched, no one could hit. Gary was inexplicably excited, thinking this was great — a wonderful no-hitter! All I could think was, “Where’s the sun? Where are the flies? Where are the COW PIES?”
Now my son plays in Little League. The boys on his team wear matching uniforms and have real bases. They have special bats and different gloves for infield, outfield and catching. They have wrist bands and batting gloves. They keep statistics and wiggle the bat before hitting, just like Ken Griffey Jr. They make spectacular hits to the outfield, but nowadays, that’s only good enough to make it to first base if you’re lucky.
They are good and fun to watch, but I still miss the cow pies and making home runs with the help of Alpha, my four-legged outfielder who certainly was a Labrador, but not much of a retriever.
Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: email@example.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.