Saturday, November 6, 2010

Famous track star umpires Hayter brothers

“The Flying Tiger”

I watched two of the brothers, Larry and Dennis, play softball last week at a nice county ballpark right near where Pasadena and the city limits of Clear Lake touch.

I don’t think anyone but older people could play on the fields, because it would be too confusing. You see, there are two home plates on each field. That’s so there will never be a collision at home. Home is always a forced out. It’s genius. If the catcher touches his plate before the runner steps on the other plate, the runner is out.

I’ve watched several of the brothers’ games and don’t remember ever seeing anyone thrown out at home. You didn’t hear it from me, but the reason is that a lot teams don’t have enough players, so each supplies a catcher for the other team. That means each catcher belongs to the team at bats. That’s just wrong.

Fortunately, it’s a gentleman’s game… one where the catcher generally misses the ball on a throw to home. It doesn’t seem to bother anybody. They’re pretty much out there having fun. I like that.

When Dennis came to the plate, he sent the ball into the gap in right center. There is one extra outfielder and one extra infielder in old guys slow pitch. Hard to find a gap, but when you do, you’re going to get some extra bases. Dennis managed to make it all the way home. Wee,wee,wee.

Dennis didn’t move all that fast, but neither did the fielders. And, their throws lacked distance and accuracy. The story of my life. When Dennis touched home plate, I was cheering like all get out. It wasn’t enough that I was the only person in the stands, but I was the only one in the area who was cheering. It was just a game to everyone else. Me, I was really drawing attention.

Suddenly the umpire looked up. The guy was just as thin as the proverbial rail. He could get lost in the shade of one of the backstop posts. He shielded his eyes from the sun and gave me a squinty look. “Whoa! Another brother!” he said. “You guys look just alike! Who’s the oldest?”

A lot of people think the four Hayter boys look alike. I don’t see it, but it doesn’t bother me. What does tend to irk is when people can’t rank us by age. Larry is 10 years older than I am, and Dennis three. “Which of you is the oldest?” Give me a break.

Oh, and Big Al, who wasn’t even there, is the youngest. I’ve got seven years on him, yet people still ask who’s the older. Don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that after a certain age we all blend. None of us look as young as we do in our mind’s eye. I just hate that.

But, back to the umpire. He was a hoot. After he recognized me as one of “The Brothers” he started commenting every time Dennis or Larry came to the plate. “Okay, look out. We got another brother at the plate. Back up!”

The man could talk some trash. I don’t mean bad language or anything. He’d get after the pitcher sometimes. -- “Hey Herb, you’re gonna bring rain with that pitch. Bring that ball down!” -- And, to a base runner -- “Bob, I think you would’ve made it had you started to second base sooner. Say, around nine… last night.”

I really enjoyed the game. A lot of laughs, some decent hits, a couple of fairly good plays and no arguing. The weather was even pleasant. It was a softball miracle. – That’s what Jill says about good stuff. There is a sale in the can goods section of the grocery store, she’ll say, “Wow, it’s a cream corn miracle!” Our kid sister is a doober.

I wish she had been at the game with me. It was so much fun. I attribute much of that to the umpire. Whatta nice guy. Hard to argue with somebody who is doing his best to make the outing enjoyable. His name was Skillet. I thought I heard it wrong, so after the game I went down and talked to him a bit.

Sure enough, he was Skillet. He said his best friend gave him the name when he was growing up. Didn’t mention why. His friend died at the age of 14, so Lee thought he’d just keep the name. That was his real name, Lee Smith. He used to run track for Texas Southern University. He ran on the 440 and 880 relay teams back when Americans were still running yards instead of meters. He said that his team once held the record in the 440 relay. I was flabbergasted.

Larry and Dennis knew nothing about Lee Smith. I doubt any of the players did. They only knew Skillet. When I got home I Googled the guy. Son of gun. Lee Smith ran the third leg of the 440, handing the baton off to Jim Hines, a sprinter who was at one time considered the world’s fastest human. In the record-breaking relay, Lee matched Hines time. In 1967 they were called the TSU Flying Tigers. They were famous in the day. “Sports Illustrated” mentioned that Lee Smith was considered the team leader. I could see that.

Yet, the one time I got to see a Flying Tiger, he was umpiring a softball game for old guys. He was clowning around and enjoying the moment.

Don’t you treasure the times when you stumble onto true humility? Yes, Smith has some glory days, and he’ll tell you about ‘em if you ask. But, they don’t rule his life. Right now he appears content being known simply as a rather outgoing umpire. He sure made the game I watched a blast.

Oh, and you may be interested to know that in the bottom of the last inning with two outs, two men on and the score 14 to 12 against the brothers’ team, Larry stepped to the plate and hit one over the centerfielder’s head. I had no doubt he was going to round the bases. It was a pretty close play at the home. So close that if the catcher hadn’t bobbled the ball for a second, I’m pretty sure Larry would’ve been called out.

Final score 15-14. I was the only one who seemed to care. Well, me and the catcher.


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