Before you read this story, click onto the above letter and if I’ve posted it correctly or if my sister Ellen has come along and corrected my work you should be able to enlarge and read it. It is a remarkable document and this is its story
One afternoon in the early spring of 1982 there was a gang of the usual suspects sitting around the Captain’s Table at Allen’s drinking beer and discussing affairs that were of concern in Normaltown. JT mentioned that he had learned of a 35 and over softball league that had been created the previous season by the City of Athens Recreation Department that was now signing up teams for the upcoming season.
Needless to say the excitement level at the table rose. There’s nothing that gets a crowd of middle age beer drinking men fired up like talk of an opportunity to show off their athletic prowess. What made this different was that over the next several days the talk didn’t stop. It was determined that several Normaltown regulars including JT, Bix, Zero, Henry, Bill, and the Commander were all turning 35 that spring and summer. John Elliot came on board as the sponsor and the Aaron Bonding Company Springers were born.
Now this all corresponded with my retirement from softball after having played in the Independent League for ten years, eight of it as manager, with the Sugar Magnolia and Magnolia Oil Co. softball team. I was approached by several members of the Springers about being their coach but I was not interested. Being only 31 I couldn’t play and while I had learned over the years how to put a team together, I certainly wasn’t a coach. To top off everything these guys were all friends of mine and I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be able to put together a team that could walk that fine line between having fun and putting a team on the field.
They surprised me. I watched them play a practice game and it was just what I had expected, total choas. However in their opening game they looked better, still confused but better. Then they were beaten badly in week two but as I sat in the stands at Bishop Park and watched, I could see the possibility of a team. They actually for the most part had guys who wanted to play, they just didn’t know how to go about it.
After the game the Springers and their fans were gathered on the back deck of Allen’s. They were discouraged. I started talking, trying to point out some things that might help them improve. Once again the subject of me coaching them was broached. Whether it was the alcohol or my ego or my just having the chance to help some friends can be debated, but I left Normaltown that night as “coach” of the Springers.
My first moves were easy. There were two players who weren’t 35 (Bud and Fast Eddie). I told them that I was glad to have them on the team, but that they wouldn’t play in league games anymore. There were also two players who had showed up too loaded to play for the first two games (but had played anyway), I told them that they would no longer play. This got us down to a manageable number of players.
Fortunately for me our first game with me as manager was against the worst team in the league and we won big. The next Wednesday we had ten players show up for practice on a ninety five degree day and that Friday we faced a very good hard hitting team from Mount Pleasant Church. I started the ten players who had showed up for practice and didn’t substitute the entire game. To everybody’s surprise we won 15-10 and I told the team afterwards that we had learned two things that night: we could beat anybody and if you don’t come to practice you don’t play.
From then on we were a team. We went through the regular season winning one week and losing the next, finishing with a .500 record and I thought that we were ready for the post season tournament.
Then the brackets were drawn. Our first game was against Westinghouse. In the two years of the league’s existence Westinghouse hadn’t lost a game. All of our players were dismayed. I tried to encourage them and tell them that they could win the game but sometimes being the guy who picks the Braves to go undefeated every year hurts my credibility. I actually believed it but I didn’t know how to convince them. They were so tight that I was starting to think that we’d lose the game 20-0 in three innings. Then came the letter.
The letter came to JT who the Rec department had down as the manager of the team. I was at work at Normal News when he called me. He said that he had gotten a letter saying that we were going to be kicked out of the softball league. I asked him to read it to me, he did, and my spirits soared. I told him to make 100 copies of it and bring them to Normaltown where we could get them to all of the Springers and our fans.
Of all the empty threats that a bureaucrat could make. We were going to be kicked out of the league after the season ended. We would forfeit our fees, after we had played all of our games. It was wonderful. The burden of playing the best team in the league was suddenly replaced by the badge of honor that this letter became for our team. We went from being the tightest team that ever approached a softball game to being the loosest.
Before the game against Westinghouse there was a coin toss to see who was the home team. Instead of me going out for it, I sent out #8, the Commander, to represent us with the umpires and the Westinghouse manager. We took the field and played a solid game defensively while turning 13 singles and three doubles into ten runs in a 10-6 victory for the ages.
Needless to say there was a party in Normaltown that night, but somehow everyone managed to show up at Bishop Park the next morning for our second game of the tournament. I’d probably gotten about three hours sleep and I imagine that was about average for the team as we took the field against the Legends. We came out in the top of the first and our first five batters (Cat, Zero, John, Henry, and Bill) scored five runs to give us an early lead on our way to a 13-9 win which clinched an improbable third place finish in the tourney for us.
Thanks to the letter.
EPILOGUE #1: We took a bus trip to a Braves game. Even after I stretched the internet envelope last week with my story about chipmonk sex, I don’t think that y’all are ready for this, the statute of limitations might not have expired on every thing. If you know a Springer, get them to tell you, I’ll just relate that after the game when everybody returned to the bus, the Mad Dog was missing. The only two people who were sober enough to go back into the stadium went back and searched. No sign of him. It was decided that he would find a way home and we set out through the now deserted parking lots. As we rounded the stadium there sitting on a curb with his chin in his hands was Terry. Hey buddy need a ride home?
EPILOGUE #2: Many people have tried to take credit for the invention of the wave, but I can state without a doubt that it was invented by the Springers, the Foxz Barsharks, and our fans. After the 1982 softball season it was decided that we would have a party at Bill Thornton’s place but beforehand we would play a softball game. The Springers were joined by the Foxz Barsharks women’s team and whoever else wanted to play or watch for the game at the Navy School field. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, I was umpiring behind homeplate. There were lawn chairs, coolers and people lined up the third baseline watching the game. Suddenly the leftfielder sort of jumped into the air, this was followed by an apparent surge of some sort moving down the third baseline. Everyone was rising and throwing their arms up into the air. Then it reached me and I felt a bolt of electricity flow through my body with my hair standing up. I had never been struck by lightning before, but this was it. My mind went blank for several seconds and when I came back to awareness I was ten yards behind the backstop and running. Somebody might be hurt I thought and I stopped and turned around. The field was empty and all the coolers and chairs were gone. I was in the back of the crowd of 30-40 people running for the parking lot. Everybody rushed to their cars and sped away without a word to anyone else. It was an otherworldly experience. We all met back up at Bill’s and this was another party to be remembered. Someone knew that lightning could follow an underground pipe and this is apparently what happened, but knowing what happened didn’t make it any less frightening, but we did invent the wave.