Todd Hartley: Making my mark in baseball lore
I was never much of a baseball player. In fact, let’s be honest, I was a bad baseball player. But I nevertheless managed to hang around long enough to make my college team my freshman year as a switch-hitting outfielder.
Now, keep in mind we’re talking about Colorado College here, a low-level Division III program that no longer exists. So it’s not as if I was starting for USC or Miami or some other team vaguely associated with success.
Our schedule each year, due to a lack of other small schools in the area, included eight or nine beatings at the hands of cross-town “rival” Air Force, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Sometimes they’d host us, at some of the nicest sports facilities your money has ever purchased, and sometimes we’d get to play at Sky Sox Stadium, a beautiful Triple A ballpark on the western edge of Colorado Springs, home to the Rockies’ top farm club.
In either case the result was the same: We would get pummeled. But at least at Sky Sox Stadium we’d get to a gem, set in a natural amphitheater, with an immaculate infield and grass so green it hurt your eyes.
Its scenic confines also made for better drama, too, like the time an Air Force ballplayer – a man so huge his batting stance took in the entire batter’s box – hit a ball out of the park, over the 100-foot-tall light tower behind the fence, out into the plains beyond and all the way to Kansas, as far as I could tell.
To escape these annual drubbings, we’d take a California trip during spring break each year and line up some of the worst competition we could find. The season I played it was CalTech, Pomona, Occidental and the crown jewel of our agenda, Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College.
These games weren’t a big deal for the starters, particularly if we played well and the game turned into a rout, but they were great for the bench bunch, the people like me who rarely saw action. The starters would take a seat for the day and we’d finally get an at-bat here and there.
I was usually a late-inning defensive replacement out in left field, but I was granted a whopping two at-bats during the California trip. Both ended, unfortunately, with a strikeout, but at least I struck out from both sides of the plate, being a switch-hitter and all.
In one game, against PCBBC, I was playing right field and I tried to make amends for my poor showing at the plate with some stellar defense. I was given a fantastic opportunity in the bottom of the ninth. We were up something like 14-3, which is why I was in the game in the first place, and PCBBC had two outs and a man on second.
The batter drilled a sharp single out to me in right, and I saw that the runner had rounded third and was trying to score, and I came up throwing. Our catcher caught the ball on one hop and applied the tag, and the umpire made the call: “Out!” The game had just ended on my great throw!
I high-fived teammates all the way to the dugout, where our coach, a devoutly religious man, pulled me aside. “You shouldn’t have done that, showing them up like that,” he said. “They were nice to host us and it’s not right to rub their faces in it.”
“But, Coach,” I protested, “I never get to play. I gotta try to throw the guy out.”
“Next time we’re playing a Bible college,” he said, “you just throw it to second base if we’re up big.”
So my California trip wasn’t exactly a hit, so to speak, and I doubted if I would get another chance to make my mark on Colorado College baseball history. But in one of our last games of the season, fortune smiled upon me – at Sky Sox Stadium, no less.
The Sox had generously offered the use of their park for a doubleheader against Western State University from Gunnison, another of our big rivals. In the second game, we scored a bunch of runs early on, and Coach told me to grab a bat.
I had been swinging well in practice, and the WSU pitchers were throwing meatballs, so I liked my chances. The three guys ahead of me in the lineup got on, and incredibly enough I found myself striding to the plate with the bases loaded. And somehow I just knew I was going to crush the ball.
Well, the pitcher threw four straight balls way out of the strike zone, and my chance at stardom ended with a walk. But, since the bases were loaded, that meant I got an RBI, so somewhere in the record books of Colorado College baseball, if any still exist, you will find my name.
[Todd Hartley waxes nostalgic on Fridays when not much else is happening in sports. Please forgive him this trip down Memory Lane. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org ]
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