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The Last Windrow: A lesson learned on the ball field

I passed by an upland hay field last week and noticed the mowers were busily taking down that first cutting of high grass. It's that time of year in the country. The Fourth of July has passed and now it's time to get down to business.

What this time of year meant to my Little League Pee Wee team was Watermelon Night at the ballpark. It was the culmination of our Little League season, the high point on the summer baseball calendar.

After Watermelon Night, baseball would be over for the summer and we would be free to visit our cousins and just be unfettered kids until school called us back to put the bit in our mouths.

Our ball club was scheduled to play Sunnyside Country School. On Watermelon Night. I've written about Sunnyside before, but for some reason the name remains encrusted somewhere in my brain cells.

When I heard we were playing Sunnyside, I thought to myself, "How good can life get? We get to trounce a bunch of farm boys and eat watermelon as dessert!"

That's what I was thinking about as I practiced pitching a baseball against the cement barn steps.

My Uncle Leonard coached Sunnyside in those days. It was with a certain amount of remorse that I thought of how he would be feeling after being pummeled by the Hinton Pee Wees.

But, I thought, he's a grown man and he should be able to take it.

The night came with a gentle breeze from the north and I was taking outfield practice when an assortment of pickup trucks and dated cars drove into the parking lot. Out of those cars came an assortment of suntanned boys who looked like they had spent a lot of time baling hay. Some were short, some looked to be of draft board age, some I thought I saw chewing tobacco.

None wore a uniform like the uniforms we sported. They were a rag tag looking bunch. They didn't know they were in for a total threshing.

The watermelon truck was pulling onto the grounds as I trotted to my spot in right field. I was already envisioning downing that first juicy slice of melon while receiving the adulation of the crowd after our win. I hoped the Sunnyside players would join us after losing, but I could understand if they just hung their heads and limped back to the western Iowa hills.

Our star pitcher, Alan, took the mound and the first Sunnyside batter strode to the plate. He had holes in both knees of his bib overalls and didn't even have a ball cap. Alan reared back and heaved the first pitch.

There was a sharp crack of the bat and the ball carried in my direction. Up and up it went, over the high line wires, over my head and into the standing cornfield at the edge of the ball field. I ran as hard as I could and found the ball six rows deep among the stalks.

By the time I exited the corn, the batter had already rounded all the bases. Home run.

The night went on like that. Luckily there was a 10-run rule after five innings or the score keeper would have run out of chalk on the scoreboard. It was a relief when the umpire called the game over.

Sunnyside players hooped and hollered and headed for the watermelon truck. My team kind of lingered on the benches for a time, but then decided that life was short and this was just a minor setback. We joined Sunnyside, Uncle Leonard and our loyal fans and filled our bellies to overflowing.

The saying is "Don't judge a book by its cover," and I would add, "Don't judge Sunnyside by the holes in their overalls."

There is justice in this world. And humility.

See you next time. Okay?