R.I.P. Harmon Killebrew and Thanks for the Bat

When Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew passed away in 2011,  it brought back a lot of little league baseball memories.

Like my very first bat.

Most of my teammates at Cleveland Elementary swung 31 or 32 inch bats signed by super stars like Carl Yastrzemski and Roberto Clemente.

Not me.

My 27-inch “Louisville Slugger”, autographed by Harmon, was perfect for my weird swing.

I wore an artificial left arm, so I couldn’t follow through.  I needed a short bat to “chop” at the ball.

I was never going to be a big hitter like Hammerin’ Harmon, who belted 573 homers in 22 seasons. But I almost always got on base for a couple of reasons.

First, when I crouched down in a batting stance, my strike zone was about two inches.  I drew a lot of walks.

Second, even though I couldn’t hit with power, I could usually crack a grounder into the gap.  And I was fast as lightning.

“Safe!” the first base umpire would usually shout. And before the first baseman or pitcher could react, I’d slide safely into second. Then third on an overthrow.  Maybe even home.

Unless we were playing Gary Harper. I hated that guy.

Back then, kids were warned not to throw curveballs while they were still growing, or their arm would fall right off.

But nobody told that to Harper.  I had nightmares about that guy.

As the lead-off batter, my job was to scope out the opposing pitcher and get on base. No problem, unless Harper was on the mound, throwing his stupid curve ball.

Honestly, I can still remember diving into the dirt to keep a Harper pitch from hitting me right in the ear hole, only to hear the ump scream “steee-rike.”

I couldn’t believe it. There was no way that pitch could’ve been in the strike zone! Or the next one. Or the next one.

But there I was. Back in the dugout on a called strike out. I never even got to take a cut.

I wanted to take my Harmon Killebrew-autographed bat out to the mound and remove the notorious smirk from Gary Harper’s face, but that was frowned upon.

Fifty-plus years later, I still have my beloved Louisville Slugger. Sort of.

In high school, I cut the bat down to about 18 inches long and kept it under my front seat. Just in case I should ever, you know, find Gary Harper.

Kidding. Gary grew up to be a very nice guy.  And his arm didn’t fall off.

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2 Responses to “R.I.P. Harmon Killebrew and Thanks for the Bat”

  1. Kris says:

    Babe?

    You just have a lovely way about you when you settle into a story from your past.

    I just love this.

    Although, what the hell were you doing in high school that required a duct-taped weapon?

    Hmmmm.

    • hams says:

      Being on THIS side of the past is way better than being IN the past, as you would well appreciate. And a police officer once asked me exactly that question about the duct-taped bat. My top-of-mind answer was not politically correct, but he let me go. Whew!

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