John Miller, who is playing and coaching for the Brussels Kangaroos in the Belgian 2nd Division and is a reporter for a big American newspaper, is now also the Little League Commissioner for Belgium. He is also back chronicling the 2010 season in his “Old World Pastime” column on Mister-Baseball.com for a third straight year.
Woe betides the man who bets against an American male swatting a baseball 300 feet with a 21st century aluminum bat. And so I lost my wager with the McLennan brothers.
It was far from a sure thing and, for a while, I felt confident of triumph. For some 50 BP pitches, the pair punched a palette of line drives into left field. Shots that bounced between shortstop and, once, just short of the top of the left-field wall. I could smell a win.
The terms specified that they didn’t have to swing. As Jon and Jeff figured out that anything not wheelhouse could be ignored, their swings caught more meat and the balls became straighter and longer.
My mistake, it turns out, was giving the Macs 30 swings each. Were it 20 cuts, it was I who would have been 20 Euros richer. On the 25th pitch of his sequence, Jon dropped one beyond the left-field netting. The crowd – the Mac wives – whooped as he embarked on a square lap. I let Jeff finish his attempts and he, too, promptly pinged one over.
I handed over my 20 smackers and threw BP to the Roos while pondering the day’s lessons. I had plenty of time to do that when our day’s opponents, the Sunville Tigers from eastern Belgium, declined to show up. We scrimmaged a few innings, then packed it up. The season is over.
What’s wonderful about baseball is that its stage is magical. The athletic feat performed on Saturday by my favorite twins is, in itself, comparable to running a half-marathon or making a half-court shot in basketball. That is, a lot of, but definitely not all of, reasonably in-shape people can do it.
But give men a barroom bet, a sunny day and a ballfield, and it felt like we were performing prime-time. The baseball field is dramatic décor, and homers, whatever their power and arc, have a glorious and transcendent quality. You have conquered your little world and get the diamond to yourself for a few seconds. I have puny power, I’ve only hit a dozen over the fence in my life, but I remember almost all of them.
Losing a bet does give you that dentist chair feeling, but it was big-time fun for the winners, so good for them. Jon’s toddler Marcus was there. Maybe this becomes a family story that trickles down to Marcus picking baseball over soccer when the time comes. Maybe the Macs fill out a softball team down the road and that allows more people to play. Fun happens on the field, and the game goes on.
The club president, Jimmy, and I also discussed using pre-game homerun derbies to raise money for the club. “That was worth 20 bucks even if I didn’t hit a single homerun,” said Jon, grinning. “I never hit one when I was playing.”
Baseball is never about a single player, hit, game or contest. It is hard. Frustration follows glory. But, if you let it, baseball delights. Even if you lose the bet. Because, well, it’s not about you.
Any good baseball wager stories to tell? I forgot to remind folks last week of my email, but I’m still here at email@example.com