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Rebuttal at Home

On an exceptionally warm day in May, the Thiel College Tomcats baseball team traveled the fifty miles from Greenville, PA to Beaver Falls, PA to play the Geneva College Golden Tornadoes.

The Golden Tornadoes earned their mascot moniker when, in 1914, a tornado ripped through the campus, tearing off the golden shingles on the roof of the building known as The Main.

And why, you may wonder, are Thiel athletic teams known as Tomcats? Until 1924Thiel athletes were Huskies. But in a game against Carnegie Tech in ‘24, Wally Steffan, the Tech coach, said after the game that Thiel had “played like wild, wild cats.”

This prompted Melvin Blair of the Greenville Record-Argus to report that “Thiel played like Tom’s cats,” a reference to Thiel football coach Tom Holleran. Not as exciting as a tornado, I admit.

As Co-Captain of the Thiel College Tomcats Baseball team, I had the privilege of presenting our lineup to the umpires before the game. Our other co-captain, right-handed pitcher John Piai, was warming up on the sideline.

Sharing lineups with the umpires equals the level of excitement one feels when looking at a shopping list. But not at this game.

As I handed our lineup to the home plate umpire, the catcher and captain for the Golden Tornadoes said to the umpire, “Hi, Dad. I’ve got my laundry bag ready for you to take home after the game.” The home plate umpire replied, “OK, son. Do you want to get something to eat later?”

“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you his father?”

The umpire gave me a look I can only describe as “You want to make something of it?” “Yes, I am. Is that your lineup?”

I went back to our bench and told our coach. He went to home plate and had a heated discussion with the umpire. Result? “Dad” ejected our coach. Not known for high-powered athletics, Thiel College had no assistant coach for baseball. In fact, John Bolliver our coach also worked as the coach of football and basketball. Coach Bolliver was banned to the team bus. As co-captains, John Piai and I now were responsible for game decisions.

When I batted in the top of the first inning, I was called out on three pitches, not one of which was a strike. I looked at the umpire. He removed his mask, nodded and smiled (smirked) at me.

That set the tone of the game. John Piai had strikes called balls. Their pitcher had balls called strikes. Somehow, we were ahead by two runs late in the game. The Golden Tornadoes had two men on base, with two outs.

Frank, our right fielder, bless his heart, had noticed that out beyond the right field fence, some co-eds were sunbathing. From that moment, Frank’s attention vacillated between baseball and bathers. I yelled at him to pay attention, and for a few pitches, he did.

However, he had his back to the infield when a Golden Tornado batter smacked a line drive to right field. Had Frank been paying attention, he might have caught the ball for the final out, but he lost his chance. He hustled after the ball as the baser runner rounded second base. If he scored, Geneva would have the lead.

As first baseman, my job was to run into short right field to catch Frank’s throw, then pivot and relay the ball to home plate in an attempt to prevent the runner from scoring the go-ahead run. Without looking I turned and fired the ball to the plate. Unfortunately, the run had scored. The home plate umpire, his back to the infield, was bent over brushing off home plate. My throw hit him squarely in the middle of his derriere, knocking him to the ground. Pat, our shortstop, couldn’t stop laughing. Joe, our second baseman, and my roomie, lay on his back, roaring.

The aching umpire would have thrown me out of the game, but the other umpire assured him I had no intention of hitting him. Looking back on all the games I played, that relay throw was one of my best.

By the way, we rallied and won the game, thanks to a home run by none other than ‒ bless his heart ‒ our right fielder and admirer of females, Frank.

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