Back when I was a little Hans and began reading up on baseball history one of the books I remember getting was one called ‘My Greatest Day In Baseball.’ I still have the paperback book although I haven’t read it since the first read probably 50 years ago. For some reason that book came to my mind today when thinking about the Pirate first baseman Will Craig’s fiasco on Thursday afternoon. While it certainly will be the most famous- infamous thing he will ever do on a baseball field- it certainly won’t go down as his ‘Greatest Day in Baseball.’
That all got me thinking and I thought of my Greatest Day in Baseball as a player. I loved playing baseball as boy. My grandparents lived near the ball field and I spent a lot of time at their house- and down at the field hanging out. I didn’t know anyone who loved baseball as I did. That isn’t saying that I was a great ballplayer- I certainly wasn’t. I was good but far from great- but I certainly loved every minute of it.
When I was twelve and in my final year of Little League Baseball- my team the Pirates were terrible. The year before powered by two outstanding twelve year old pitchers we were in first place- until the rains from Hurricane Agnes hit us- flooding the ball field. When the waters receded the field was a cake of mud. The rest of the season was cancelled. The next year without the two great pitchers we were in trouble. We had two good players on my team- Dave and myself. The rest of the team was a motley crew- a real dumpster fire- and I am being kind. Nice kids but terrible ballplayers. Dave was a better athlete than I was and when I was pitching he played shortstop. When he pitched I was at first base. Of course any ball hit was trouble. Even though Dave was a very good shortstop- if there was a ball hit to him- and Basil was at first base it was a 1 in 3 shot that Basil would catch the ball when Dave threw it over. When Dave was pitching the same problem applied. I was a lefty and slow a foot- I was a good first baseman but who in the rest of the infield was going to catch anything?
We went through the first half of the season without a win. I don’t think we even came close. My dream started to become- win a game. Win one game. The previous year we won so often it became expected. Now-one win would make the season. We went into the second half of the season and it was looking grim. Then we were playing the Mets- not a great team but certainly much better than we were. Dave was pitching. It was the second game of the week and there was a rule you could only pitch 6 innings a week. The game was tied and went into extra innings. We scored a run to take the lead. I was on third base after we had pulled ahead and I mentioned to the coach- who was coaching third base “Dave is out of innings will I be pitching now?’ He said that I would be.
We went into the bottom of the 7th with that one run lead. I was pumped up. I could see a win within reach. The 7-8-9 hitters were up for the Mets- if I could just throw strikes chances are they strike out. My problem pitching was wildness. I would usually pitch 2-3 pretty good innings and then get tired- and start throwing balls. The first two batters I struck out. One out away. I then walked the next batter. It was now the top of the Mets line-up- their hitters were up. I walked the next batter and I could see my coach-he was starting to get a little nervous. I then walked the next batter loading up the bases. Another walk and the game is tied. The coach had no option but to stick with me. Now the Mets best hitter, Jerry came up. He could end the game with a hit. My first three pitches to Jerry were balls. One more and the game is tied. A feeling came over me. I don’t think I’ve ever had this feeling since- it’s hard to describe but all the sudden I got this out of body like feeling. I was certainly as they would say ‘in the zone.’ My next pitch was a strike right down the middle and as fast of a pitch as I had ever thrown. Jerry swung and missed. I got the ball back and was ready to go- same result- I really hummed that ball in there- right down the middle and Jerry once again swung and missed. 3 balls and 2 strikes. The bases are loaded. I didn’t waste anytime I was floating out there on the mound. I threw my next pitch- Jerry swung and missed. Later they told me that after that pitch I jumped from the pitchers mound to the foul line near our dugout screaming with happiness. Everyone on the team was all over me like we had just won the World Series. Things start to calm down- I remember going in and sitting on the bench and I started crying. The coaches younger son who was a bat boy- [ if he had been old enough he would have been one of our better players] looked at me and I could see a look of concern on his face- ‘Hans we won why are you crying? My response was ‘Because we won’- I couldn’t describe that the tears were tears of joy.
Later in the year we won one more game. And then in the playoffs [everyone made the playoffs] we came close to winning- an umpire’s call cost us. Anyway- even though that was the worst team I ever played on that was a fun year and that game against the Mets when we finally won a game- stands out as my Greatest Day in Baseball.