Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Might Not Be In Good "Taste"...

So, here's your riddle for the day:

Q: How many radiation treatments does it take to lose your taste buds?

A: Let's say...12!

I officially cannot taste a gawdam thing now. To try and prove there was a small bit of hope, I bought a Big Mac Meal from McDonald's this afternoon, which is, I know, sacrilegious! Probably close to "zero" nutritional value, but I think that stuff has always been about taste.

Couldn't taste a thing!
It's a bizarre feeling. I see food, know what it tastes like before taking a bite, then chew and swallow it waiting for a hint of flavour. But, no dice!

Will have to figure something out quickly!


#24: Back in 1988, I played on a fastball team that won a provincial championship. Hard to believe that was 24 years ago! So, in a twisted tribute of sorts, I'm replaying that fateful championship day...with no apologies.

This essay is kind of multi-faceted; part nostalgia, part tirade, part knit-pick and part jubilation. I find it interesting how we can remember little things when reflecting on past adventures. I mean, over two decades have passed, but the images of that summer afternoon in 1988 are just so vivid.

(I’d love to hear stories about this tournament from a few other points of view.)

I’ve been wearing my old championship ring for the past few weeks, not sure why, but these days it seems to have some extra meaning in my wacky world of faith and reflection.

Our sponsor was a chemical supply company called Oliver Agricultural Supply, I think…

The Saskatoon Oliver Jets, 1988 Intermediate “C” Provincial Champions. The tournament was played in Canwood, Saskatchewan. This is actually my wife’s hometown, but at that point in our lives, we had not yet crossed paths.

We won three straight games, then met the Melville Sharks in the finale. They would have to beat us twice.

In the first game, I made a throwing error. With runners at first and second and two outs, the batter hammered a ground ball up the middle. I went about five steps to my right into the hole behind second base, almost to the outfield grass and stabbed the damn thing. For some reason, our shortstop chose not to cover second base, for what would have been a simple ten-foot, underhand toss that would have gotten us the final out of the inning. Um, can you say “fundamentals”?

I panicked when I saw second base was uncovered, turned quickly, lost my balance, and tried to throw to first base, but I think the ball landed somewhere in outer space. Our first baseman grabbed it and over threw third base. It became comical, until our left fielder walked the ball into the infield. Melville scored two runs on the play.

I was livid! I didn’t say a word to our shortstop. Not even a look. I didn’t want to show him up. But, it would've been sportin' if he at least would've acknowledged his mistake.

Alas, I also know that I could’ve just eaten the ball!

That sequence of events became a momentum changer and we lost that game…big…14-7, which meant Melville had another life.

Between games, I felt like our coach singled me out, which drove me f***** nuts! I was already runnin’ hot, and could have just drilled the little bastard, but I knew that he knew that I could take the heat. I could name a couple of guys from that team who would have sulked after that kind of blatant criticism…they would have been useless, probably assuming the fetal position for the rest of the day.

Gord Hounjet managed the team. Probably an under-rated baseball mind, but I’m confident his strength back then was managing our personalities. I’d also call him happy-go-lucky, a good mindset considering some of BS we created from time to time. And he stuck with me, even when it might have made sense to cut the cord. I’m sure he took some heat because of my antics. On the other hand, I know he didn’t mind seeing me in the batter’s box when we needed a hit…or a guy who could get a bunt down!

During the second game against Melville, the whole team was solid! We got a great pitching performance out of Teddy WhitecaIf. I kept my mouth shut, made plays on defence and drove in our first run of the game. That’s your job when you hit in the #3 spot. You're there to drive in runs!

My silence led to the home plate umpire giving me a shot…he heckled me late in the game. There was some history between us from tournament play over the years. I didn’t ever hesitate to take umpires to task. I expected them to be as good, or better, than the players…every time out. Just manage the game with correct decisions. I remember that this dude was from Prince Albert, kind of a tough town, and we just never did hit it off.

We were up 1-0 in about the fifth inning when I stepped up to the plate with a runner on first base, our shortstop. Sure, dude and I were not buddies, probably because we have some similar personality traits, but he deserves props for producing an unreal on-base percentage during that tournament. He gave me a chance to drive in runs almost every time I stepped to the plate in that tournament.

The umpire mouthed off at me through his mask, cracking at me that “we haven’t heard too much outa you this afternoon”.

“I'm sure I'm not finished talkin’ yet, pal”, I whispered at him. Of course, I would have rather called him a prick.

I could see the weasel smirking behind his cage. It was one of those quiet exchanges that only the batter, the catcher and the umpire can hear.

The pitcher from Melville was a kid named Matt Stelmack. He didn’t over-power us, but he threw with precision. He’d move the ball up and down, in and out. I hadn't gotten a real good look at anything from him, but had been putting the ball into play.

I clearly remember his first pitch after the umpire pissed me off, and also the look on his face when the ball left his hand. It was a “drop” that didn’t drop. It hung over the plate, big as a pumpkin, and I absolutely crushed it. A no-doubter! A two-run home run.

I thought about chirping the umpire as I rounded the bases, about a million one-liners running around my brain. But I figured he might just be waiting on that so he could take some pleasure in tossing me. Frankly, after the "tater", it was easy to ignore him. 

We won the game 3-2.

The final out was kind of anti-climactic, but I guarantee some of us wanted the ball and some didn’t want it hit anywhere near them. It was a little one-hopper back to the mound that did it, with Teddy Whitecalf making a short toss over to Harvey Thunderchild at first base. The two native guys on our team combined for the final out. What a thrill for them! And, a thrill for the rest of us!
I didn’t hang out with the guys after we won, rather, I stuck close to the diamond with a couple of guys I had played with years before. Role models from the Financial League. When they found out we were in the provincial final, they drove up from Saskatoon to watch, about a two-hour drive. I don’t think any of my Oliver Jets team mates knew these guys were there, or how much they had meant to my development as a ball player. To this day, I don’t even know what the provincial championship trophy looked like. In retrospect, I guess it would have been nice to have had a picture holding it…

That provincial championship was certainly the highlight!  We travelled to Steveston, B.C. about three weeks later for the Western Canadian Championship. We played 10 games in four days, settling for a silver medal after the team from Minnedosa, Manitoba beat us twice on the last day.

I suppose for many of us on that team, one might suggest that we kind of grew up together during those years. Girl friends became wives, some couples began to have children, then wives became ex-wives! Good times for the most part back in the day with that group. We were young, mostly in our mid- to late-20’s. A couple of fellas were a bit longer-in-the-tooth.

I always felt like an outcast on that team. Before joining this group, I had played for three years in what was called the “Financial League” in Saskatoon. There were some damn good players in that loop, and I learned from some great ones. But, the league didn’t really garner too much respect from the supposed upper-echelon types in the city who played in a division they called “Special Men’s” or “First Division”. On the diamond, I suppose I usually arrived on the scene with a chip on my shoulder, but I knew I could play at this level and I knew I could be a go-to-guy. And I just loved to hit!

Away from the games, I didn’t really do the kinds of things folks do to try and fit in. I was mired in a lousy relationship at the time, a three-year mess that often had me off-balance, both at work and at play. Ball games were the best diversion I had access to and I wore my heart on my sleeve. I seldom showed respect for opponents, although there are many guys from other teams that to this day know full well I admired their skill and commitment. A bunch of ‘em were so good, they absolutely forced me to become a better player.

I was hard on my team mates, too. We had guys that simply could not get a bunt down or hit a bloody cut-off man. Geezuz…this was the fundamentally basic stuff! Just get the f****** bunt down! And it always bothered me that there were guys who were very intense when things were going well, really committed, but when things were kind of crummy, they would sluff it all off and suggest that we were only there to have fun. In retrospect, maybe their’s was the right perspective, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around it back then. I figured it out around the time my ball playing days were winding down, when I had other priorities in my life. I was a win-at-all-costs guy most of the time, but probably a bit on the immature side.
It was always fun to be a contributor to the team concept. The camaraderie feels great at times. But there are also so many reasons why I gravitated to playing golf as I’ve grown older. When you play golf well, you have earned all of the credit for the peak performances. When you play badly, you shoulder 100% of the blame. There is tremendous equity and balance in that reality.

I’ve stayed in touch with a couple of guys from that ball team, but the rest; who knows? I do hope they’re all enjoying life. They were around for many of the highs and lows in my life, as an athlete and as a person. It might be an interesting reunion someday.

Or perhaps it might just be a free-for-all…

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