(This column was originally published on May 12, 2016)
With baseball in full swing, I’m nostalgic for the glorious smell of horsehide placed into a young pitcher’s hand. It was baseball that first brought me to Cody at age 12 and kept me coming back each summer as a teen. It was roofing that summoned my return years later, but there are no great smells there.
I had memorable Legion coaches – my first and greatest, Larry Martoglio. I arrived in ’71, a shaggy-haired, beaver-teethed Easterner with all the drive and tools to make first team in a strange land.
My buddy Dave Beemer still can’t admit I promptly stole the third-base position from him. Beems was good, but the handsome new kid quickly relegated him to valuable utility man. Larry had found his “Hoover Vacuum” he’d never relinquish.
Dave and I did tie, though, for the Casper state tournament, highest batting average: .563. I had many standout moments, but I can’t say all fill me with pride. For instance:
• The Ty Cobb Pants: Larry insisted I get a haircut from the discount chop-shop at the Irma. That cowlick-catastrophe combined with the last uniform, oversized pants to make me look like Satchel Paige from the Old Negro League.
• Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll Meltdown: Like most great coaches, Larry didn’t take losing gracefully. After one galling, close loss in Worland, we didn’t stop for our usual A&W burgers. Driver Joel Shad stopped at a little store and Larry returned to the bus growling: “OK, you get a Coke and two candy bars – Snickers, Clark Bar or Bing.”
When my turn came, I innocently asked, “Yes, do they have Pearson Salted Nut Rolls perchance?” Coach’s eyes blazed as he got nose-to-nose and yelled, “Yes Blough, they DON’T have Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls!” Amid nervous, stifled giggles behind me, I meekly chirped, “Let’s go with the Bing.”
When I questioned his disproportionate anger, Larry barked, “Do you like losing, Blough?” I said, “No, but we can’t change it now.” It’s the only time in my life I was the mature voice of reason.
• Caught Red-handed: It was a Sunday, home game, bleachers brimming with gorgeous, young girls. I proudly slapped a single to lead off an inning and began peering into the sun for Coach’s signs at third. He brushed his cheeks … tugged his cap … and after each pitch, I squinted with my confused gopher look. Finally Larry screamed, “Steal the freakin’ base, Blough!”
On the next pitch I took off like a wounded deer, and the shortstop was waiting with the ball and a big grin. I’m sure the gals didn’t realize I wasn’t really that slow, but the element of surprise was long gone.
• Out, Out and Out: The unassisted triple play sadly needs to be mentioned. Summing up, what started as a heads-up dash for third blew up when I realized Kevin Skates already was there. Retracing and sliding back into second, I found Donnie Beemer, who had advanced from first. We were all three tagged out, and I recall an umpire named Porter making the last call from the ground, laughing.
Bear in mind though, I did bat .563 at state.