Coffin: Fastball

Jul 20, 2015

Camp Kitchogamik, a summer camp for boys in Barnard, had a baseball team that sometimes came the 10 miles south to my hometown of Woodstock to play a team I belonged to, on the diamond at Vail Field.

It was the early fifties and I was about 12 years old, not much of a hitter but possessed of a strong arm. I was the center fielder.

With that arm, I was tempted to pitch. But being shy, I kept my ambition to myself, until one July morning I summoned my courage and told coach Fred Peck I wanted to give pitching a try. He took me to the mound for some pointers, then said I could start the next morning, in a game against Kitchogamik.

An overnight rain stopped well before the 10 o’clock game time. Still, the wet grass prompted the use of rubber-covered balls. Regular baseballs were expensive and water spoiled them. But the rubber balls had their drawbacks, being heavier, and slippery.

I was nervous when the Kitchogamik leadoff man stepped in. It was right hand pitcher against right hand hitter. I wound up and fired a fastball hard as I could. But the ball slipped, and smacked the kid in the head. He went down like a rock, and lay motionless on the damp earth.

I was terrified. He was out cold, and blood came from an ear. Was he badly hurt, even alive? But soon, slowly, with help, he got up, and staggered to the bench. The coach said I’d better go back to the outfield. I never pitched again.

Now fast forward to a spring evening in 2014. I’m playing pool in a Montpelier bar and there’s a Red Sox game on television. Between shots I’m talking baseball with a Midwestern fellow about my age who’s a Red Sox fan because he went to a camp here in Vermont, a place called Kitchogamik.

“Kitchogamik? Sure, I grew up in Woodstock. We played your ball team.”

“I played,” he said. “And I took a pitch in the head one morning that knocked me out cold.”

“I hate to tell you this,” I said, “but I was the pitcher. Were you OK?”

“You? Really? Yeah, I was all right. Bad headache, though. That was some fastball. I couldn’t move.”

“No long-term effects? That’s a relief,” I said, adding that it WAS a wet morning and, “Those rubber baseballs were slippery.”

“Ah,” he said. “I didn’t blame you.”

Before he left, we shook hands, right hands, both a bit wrinkled.