Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Good Day

Steve West


It 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. It’s 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 you’re 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 didn’t have umpire’s equipment. It wouldn’t 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 Stark’s Grocery.

“Hope the heat don’t 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.

“Yes, 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. “I’m afraid it’ll be an early fall this year. Seems an early frost always follows a hot July.” I’d heard some old man or other saying that the other day as I sipped a Mr. Cola in front of the grocery.

“Why, yes, I ‘spect you’re 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.” It’s 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 was?

Grandpa Ump shook my hand. I guess he didn’t 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.

“Hope your watermelons is good this year,” I called after him.

“Thank you. You stop by when they’re ready, and I’ll give you one.” I think we both knew it wouldn’t 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.

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Steve 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.

© Steve West

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012