was hot the day I pitched my only no-hitter. I played until I
was thirty-two years old, in semi-pro leagues around the state
and never pitched another. Its kind of bad in a way to have
your life peak on July 12, 1966, but at least I had a peak. It
was my fourteenth birthday, 103 degrees on the baked clay infield
of Guy, Arkansas. The coaches decided to cut it to a five-inning
game because of the heat and besides, we had to get home and watch
the All-Star game on TV. It was still a day game then. I struck
out six. Curve balls were rare in Pony League back then, and I
had a wicked roundhouse. Floyd, our coach, started calling me
Turk, after a pitcher Houston had named Turk Farrell, who had
a good curve ball, and the nickname stuck. They say youre
nobody in baseball until you got a nickname, so I had made it.
I was the Turk, or Turkel, or even Turkey when that curve ball
flattened out, and I got nailed.
The umpire, an old fellow with faded overalls and a big, ol
tater belly hanging down, stood behind home plate since they didnt
have umpires equipment. It wouldnt have fit him anyway.
I started chit-chatting with him, talking about the weather and
such, like Daddy and his friends did on the sidewalk in front
of Starks Grocery.
the heat dont ruin the corn crop, I said.
Grandpa kind of did a double take and looked down at me. You
a farm boy? I was from a town of 3000. I guess he thought
a kid from such a big town would be a city slicker of some sort.
sir. Well, kinda. Me and my Daddy have about two acres that we
grow stuff on. The truth, of course, was that it was more
like an acre, and Daddy did the growing; I did some picking and
hoeing when he made me. Im afraid itll be an
early fall this year. Seems an early frost always follows a hot
July. Id heard some old man or other saying that the
other day as I sipped a Mr. Cola in front of the grocery.
yes, I spect youre right about that, he said,
like it was some great revelation visited on him by the Great
Kreskin or somebody.
I kept up the chatter about crops and stuff, and he gave me every
close pitch. One strike out was on a pitch about a foot inside,
but he threw up his right hand and said, You out, I reckon
there, boy. Its odd to get hometown umping in an out-of-town
game, and I just enjoyed it. The last out was a pop to second
that Peas Westerman gathered in. Guess what his favorite food
Grandpa Ump shook my hand. I guess he didnt notice I had
no real calluses from all that farming I said I did. That
was as gooder a game as I ever seen pitched, he said, and
headed for his truck and out of the heat.
your watermelons is good this year, I called after him.
you. You stop by when theyre ready, and Ill give you
one. I think we both knew it wouldnt happen.
I basked in the glow of a victory, and when I got home, I watched
my National League favorites beat the American Leaguers. Mama
fixed fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, English peas,
and peach cobbler for my birthday dinner. That was a good day.
One thing has troubled me after all this time; would I have thrown
a full seven-inning no-hitter, and would I have done so well if
I had not buttered up that old umpire so well? I pitched a couple
of shut-outs later, but never came close to a no-hitter. Truth
to tell, I never had a season in which I won more than I lost.
Well, it was important at the time, and it counted. Of course,
that and 75 cents will get me a Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper
here in the 21st Century.
West teaches English at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski,
Tennessee. He has poems in the most recent Number One and
in Prairie Poetry, Phantasmagoria, Mount Voices,
Roanoke Review, CrossRoads, Muscadine Lines:
A Southern Journal, USADEEPSOUTH, and others.