By Tony Hooker
Because of the way my work is scheduled, I seldom get an opportunity to watch spring sports at VG.
It’s a disappointment to me, because I love baseball and softball, and my Uncle Bill and I loved track and field so much that we would annually sojourn to Charleston for the state meet every year when I was a kid. I’ve written about him before, but my uncle, Billy “Gopher” Jones, made an amazing impact on me. One that I still feel today, and I miss him.
That’s why it was great that I happened to be in town last Friday afternoon when Heritage visited VG for a baseball game on the field where I used to watch the high school heroes of my grade school years perform. The Carr brothers could run, hit and field with the best of them. Joe “Train” Gordon could “throw that speed ball by ya,” to quote Bruce Springsteen. One of the best players I ever saw was a guy whose name I believe was Martin, but I could be wrong. I once saw him throw a guy out at home from the right field fence, and the ball never bounced. In another game, I saw him hit a home run into the river over that same right field fence. If anyone knows who I’m talking about, please reach out to me, because I would love to do a story about that guy and give him his props.
As for the game I watched, it was no masterpiece, to put it lightly. Temperatures in the low fifties, combined with just enough misting rain to make things miserable, had both teams throwing the ball all over the yard. How bad was it? How about 15 errors between the two nines? Of the nineteen runs the two teams put up, only two were earned. Villa Grove’s starting pitcher gave up eight runs and none were earned. Abner Doubleday would have covered his eyes. The good news for both teams is that the game was an outlier, and they have played much more sound ball most of this season. The fact that until this year they had been teammates could also have played a role, as I’m sure each squad wanted to cream the other.
Things about Villa Grove’s field that remain the same? It remains a beautiful shrine for baseball heads like me. The coaches and staff at VG did an amazing job of not only making the field playable after a daylong rain, but made it look great! It’s still a long way from third base to first, and it takes a great arm to throw a guy out on a bouncer hit in the hole at shortstop. I still couldn’t hit a fastball, and as for a curve, forget about it. I’ll take my cuts and grab some bench in the dugout, thank you very much.
Things that are different? I love the “walk up” music that has been added. The fact that the softball girls were singing along to Miley Cyrus was an added bonus. Well played, young man. Well played. All in all, my first game at that particular field in well over two decades turned out to be a pleasant one, even though the weather didn’t cooperate. I even enjoyed the Dad clichés being thrown out on each play. “Move up in the box.” “Just throw strikes.” “Stay back on the ball.” “Wait for your pitch.” Those, combined with the ping of the aluminum bat making solid contact and the snap of a ball hitting leather, were like music to my ears. Welcome home, baseball. Hope you can stay a while.