Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, 74, has passed away. I never was much of a baseball fan, and I don’t remember much about Harmon. But his name was on my grade school era baseball bat. And you don’t forget important things like that.
Every time I was up, I’d look at the bats leaning against the wire backstop. I could always find my bat easily. It was the only one with a “7” on the base. Most guys swung 31 or 32 inch bats signed by Hank Aaron or Carl Yastremski.
Not me. My 27-incher signed by Harmon was perfect for my weird swing. I wear an artificial left arm, and there is no “wrist to break”. I couldn’t follow through, which robbed me of power. So I needed a short bat to “chop” at the ball.
I was never going to be a big hitter like Hammerin’ Harmon, who belted 573 homers in 22 seasons. But the big hitter was slow and only hit a career .256. I had him there.
I’m not sure what my batting average was, but I remember getting on base most of the time. There were a couple of reasons for that. First, when I was crouched over in a batting stance, my strike zone must have been about two inches, so I drew a lot of walks. Second, even though I couldn’t “park it”, I could usually crack a solid grounder into the gap. I was fast, so I usually beat the throw to first. And then some.
“Safe!” the first base umpire would shout. And normally, before the first baseman or pitcher had time to spit or scratch themselves, I would slide safely into second base. And third. And home. I just loved to steal.
Our Cleveland Cougars team won the city championship in football when I was a sixth grader, but I don’t think we ever did much in baseball. We didn’t have anyone who could throw smoke. Or a curve ball. But back then, no 12-year-old in the universe back could throw a curve. It wasn’t allowed.
Coaches always said if you threw a curve ball while your were still growing, you’d ruin your shoulder. I wish they’d have told that to Gary Harper. I have a few traumatic, baseball-related memories. Most are Harper-related.
I was the lead-off batter. My mission: scope out the opposing pitcher and get on base. If it wasn’t a strike, I didn’t swing. So I earned a lot of walks. And once on base, I’d steal. Life was good.
Until Harper showed up. Harper and his stupid curve ball from hell.
I’ll never forget diving into the dirt to keep a ball from hitting me right in the ear hole, only to hear the ump scream “steee-rike.” I couldn’t believe it. No way that pitch could’ve been in the strike zone! Or the next one. Or the next one.
But there I was. Back in the dugout, having struck out. And wanting to use my Harmon Killebrew-autographed “Louisville Slugger” to remove Harper and his notorious smirk from the pitcher’s mound.
Forty-plus years later, I still have these baseball memories. And I still have that bat. Sort of.
In high school, I cut the bat down to about 18 inches long and covered it with black electrical tape. I kept it under the front seat in my car. Just in case I should ever, you know, need a lot of electrical tape, to fix a short or something.
The cut-down Louisville Slugger still rests next to my nightstand. I just picked it up to see if the “7” is still visible on the base. It is.
Rest in Peace Harmon. And thanks for the bat.
(P.S., maybe I’d have actually learned to hit if I’d
had this system. Nahhh, not me. Note even me AND my Harmon Killebrew bat.)
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