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Dishing It Out

Savoir-Faire on Home Plate

By Michael K. Savit

"I've been here a long time," he said. "A long, long time. Why I remember the first time John Harvard threw a Pilgrim out on top of me. Hurt like hell. But what happened here this afternoon, now that takes the cake."

The speaker was Home Plate, from the Soldiers Field Home Plates, and if he sounds a bit wary, you can't blame him. How would you sound, after all, if history had just been made on top of you?

Indeed, Plate had worked an intramural softball game this Wednesday afternoon, the 23,689th contest of his illustrious career. Now, as the remnants of what had been a beautiful April sun got tangled up in the commuter traffic heading west out of Cambridge, he took a deep breath and spoke of his wild and crazy afternoon.

"First," Plate continued, "let me describe the situation. Winthrop was playing Dudley, you see, and as the game entered the top of the fifth inning, the 'Throp held a tenuous 7-6 lead.

"Now the first guy up, Dolan, lines a single to left, and then this guy McNabb steps to the plate and promptly doubles down the right field line. So there are runners on second and third, right, with nobody out.

"Next comes Hendricks, Winthrop's pitcher, so he probably can't hit worth a damn anyway. Dudley's hurler winds up and whips one high and outside, and I hear Hendricks mutter, 'Hey, what's going on here?'

"When the next pitch does the same thing, he gets the idea that Dudley's pitcher might be trying to walk him intentionally, and turns red in the face. He was some kind of angry, and I can't say I blamed him. Even the British allowed George Washington to hit away.

"Ditto for pitch number three, and as Hendricks trots to first, the recipient of the first intentional walk in Harvard softball history, I hear him mutter under his breath, 'Now that wasn't very nice.'

"Don't feel bad for Hendricks, though. The one to feel sorry for is the next batter, Bruce Shepherd, the intended victim of this strategy. Actually, you can understand why the Dudley hurler, who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that will be readily apparent when I continue with this story, preferred to face Shepherd, a cocky Californian whose fielding average is lower than his batting average and whose credibility rises and falls with the price of stock in Del Webb.

"As Shepherd approached me, he turned back to look at his coach, who kept shaking his head like he was nervous. Shepherd had an evil grin on his face, reminiscent of a child about to steal licorice from the candy store. Stepping in, he glared at the Dudley pitcher, glanced at his first base coach and then, to the surprise of everyone present, drilled a two-run single to left.

"Surprise, because while I had heard that Shepherd was a big swinger (he told me so himself), I didn't know it applied to softball. Besides, in our pre-game base conference, second base told me that Shepherd had been striking out a lot lately.

"In fact, now that I've had a few hours to think about it, I'm not sure what caused a bigger shock, the impact of witnessing the first intentional walk in Harvard softball history or the fact that Shepherd crossed up the strategy by getting a base hit.

"After the game, which Winthrop went on to win, 15-9, to remain undefeated (5-0) for the season, I heard Shepherd talking to one of his teammates.

"'You know,' he said, 'I don't like notoriety. I try to avoid the limelight, and I don't blow my own horn or anything. I just do my part. In this case, I'm just glad I came through. Incidentally, the hit raised my season's average to .667 and gave me five runs batted in for the game.'

"Well," Plate concluded, "I've got to be going now. Third base and I are dining out with the coaches' boxes tonight. First, though, I have to dust myself off. My job's not all that easy, you know. People are always stepping on me."

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