Freeze column: Softball memories from years ago

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 26, 2012

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
The oddest thing happens just about every morning. After going for my morning run, I get in the shower and creative thoughts start running about the same time the water does. Story and column ideas seem abundant and often some of the funny stuff makes me laugh way too much. Sometimes, funny stuff and memories come together, and this is the case with my column for today.
When I was about 14, the adults who organized our church’s softball team asked me to play. I loved playing baseball, but was a little apprehensive to join a softball team made up of nearly all adults. First Baptist Church in China Grove played at the old ballfield that used to be behind the school that is now China Grove Middle. Lots of churches in the area had teams and there was a huge fan turnout just about every night.
First Baptist had some good players and was competitive, but had an up and down team. Amazingly while taking a shower, I could remember who played every position and a few who filled in when they could. Charlie Doby who owned Doby’s Upholstery was the pitcher usually. He organized things and did a good job of it. Harry (Quickie) Rogers, who spent many years at Rowan Cabarrus Community College, was a really good first baseman. He was left-handed, and had the complicated footwork down pat. Cliff Brown, a nurse anesthetist in Rome, Georgia, also played some first base. Second base was handled by Bob Sides, always steady with his fielding and a great on-base guy. Sides retired from CTC. Thompson was the third basemen, a solid fielder and willing to take a hard grounder off the chest before throwing out the runner. Thompson could really hit too.
The outfield was decent too. Tall Ben Basinger had a cannon on his shoulder in center field and covered lots of ground quickly. Steve Thompson, who followed me to Western Carolina University and became a teacher in the Atlanta area, was often in left, and was capable of playing well at several positions. Jerry Overcash played right field, and always played hard. Lots of times, people don’t realize how hard right field is to play. The ball hooks away from the fielder when hit hard by a right handed batter. Jerry was good at making this play.
Catcher was usually manned by Archie McDonald. Archie once was good enough to be offered a pro baseball contract, though by that time had experienced some injuries, but he could really hit.
You might have noticed that I left out a couple of positions. One was in the outfield at a position then called shortfield. The shortfielder often would move to left center field when right handers were hitting, and then over to right center when left handers were hitting. The intent was to cut off base hits in the gaps, and this player could usually cover the ground pretty quickly. In those days, softballs were not as lively and all the bats were wood. The hitters were strong, and once in a while they could give a ball a good ride. The difference was that both teams played with the same ball and it was often used for more than one game, getting heavier and heavier with dew. With all that said, they put me in shortfield, and I loved it. I had a lot to learn, but these were all good guys and made me very welcome. They helped me with proper positioning and advice on who could hit where.
That still leaves one more position, the hardest to play of all. Shortstop takes a good throwing arm, some footspeed and real knowledge of the game. Often the shortstop is the best athlete on the team. First Baptist struggled at this position, so much at times that they tried me there. My throws regularly went over the first basemen’s head, and as good as ‘Quickie’ Rogers and Cliff Brown were, they could only do so much. Gary Lowder, who later became a professional singer and traveled with various bands even then, got a chance to handle shortstop too. He was a better singer. Trouble was that he must have watched my throwing methods and thought they were good. Gary just could throw them harder over the first baseman’s head. He could hit pretty well, so they usually found him a place to play.
Then along came Johnny Overcash, Jerry’s brother, and we had a shortstop. He had all the above qualities and was also a good hitter. The team went on to play as Doby’s Upholstery in Landis for few years. I loved it so much that I drove home 2-3 times a week from WCU during the spring and fall semesters. These were great guys and all the games were played in a family environment. I hope I got all the facts right and have no idea how many we won or lost. Some of the players are now hitting softballs in heaven, but first they were great teammates and mentors here on earth. It is probably spring training there too.