Out of Pearidge

Authorization is granted for the use of short quotes for educational purposes as long as proper citations are used. A version of this story first appeared in The Huntsville Times, June 8, 1996, C2.

The Importance of Winning and Losing

In the 1950's, summer time in southwest Huntsville meant softball. Unlike the leagues of today's play, our games were unorganized, played in a pasture or on a weedy hillside on Ridgecrest Road, the present-day Drake Avenue.

Parents often played with us children. The teams were constituted for balance in such a manner that the worst players weren't selected last.

Still, I knew I was among the worst. I was one of the youngest in the neighborhood, and my hand-eye coordination wasn't suited to baseball. Nevertheless, I enjoyed just playing.

Typically, ours were high-scoring games with lots of errors by everyone. Winning was never the primary goal. Well, never say "never."

There was a day when a group of young men stopped. They introduced themselves as living in the housing for military dependents on the hill west of where we were playing. They said they had friendly games of softball just as we did. Wouldn't it be fun if we came up and played them a game?

We talked about it briefly and decided it would be an adventure. The leaders set a date and time and the anticipation began. We seldom got to go onto Redstone Arsenal. We would enjoy the diversion.

On the appointed day, we loaded into cars and started up the hill. We didn't know what to expect. The MP's at the gate knew we were coming and waved us through.

The older children talked mostly of having fun, but there was the occasional, "It'd sure be good to beat them. Those military think they are better than us anyway."

When we reached their park, we found a regulation-sized field with a regular diamond and real bases. Everyone on the other team had dressed in black and white as if they were in uniforms. Suddenly winning became the issue.

I didn't enjoy the extra tension, but perhaps it helpe my play. I caught the only two balls hit to me in the outfield. I had no hits going into the ninth inning, but few people had hits. The score was 1-0 their favor.

We had one out when I came to bat. At least I won't end the game, I thought. I swung at the first pitch and the ball went sailing just past the infield. I had a hit. The next batter also got a hit and I advanced to second. Our next person drove a hot grounded to the first baseman, who stepped on the base and threw to second, but the throw was off line. We had runners on second and third, two outs.

During the next at bat, there was a passed ball. Everyone yelled to me to steal home. I could tie the game if I could reach home, but if caught, the game would be over. I decided to play it safe.

On the next pitch, the batter hit a long fly to center field. Their fielder raced back against the fence, reached out and snagged the ball. We lost. There was considerable speculations on the way down the hill as to what might have happened had I tried to come home. None of it supported my decision not to try.

Somehow, after that day, playing solfball was never as much fun for me. I had learned the importance of winning and losing.