Vidakovich column: Setting the record straight
I sometimes have the habit of using my imagination in rearranging experiences to improve a story, so long as it serves some notion of truth. With that introduction, I’ve done my best to select only the somewhat clouded memories from a day long ago in late July of 1971 when I felt the brief euphoria of winning a little league baseball championship game, only to have it snatched away, quicker than a hiccup, by an umpire’s call. A ruling, to this day, that I think about, and know in my heart was obviously incorrect.
So if you will, follow me back in time for just a bit, so I can set the record straight on what really happened that day in one of the many beautiful summers of my youth.
I was 11 years young and on the mound pitching for Glenwood in the championship game of the little league baseball tournament. Ironically enough, the opponent, and a formidable one at that, was the other Glenwood 11-12 year-old team. During that time period, so many of us went out for summer baseball that the league organizers often had to divide us up evenly into two squads. Most years, in many of the age divisions, 8-10 years, 11-12 years, and 13-14 years, it was two Glenwood teams vying for the league title and the coveted trip to the season-ending district tournament which was played each year in either Rifle or Meeker.
We had a darn good team with solid players at every position, but the best ‘baller may have been my catcher, Tim Thulson. Tim could hit for average and power, he would stop every errant pitch I tossed in the dirt, and you didn’t dare to try and steal second on him because he would often hurl a dart out to the waiting glove of our shortstop to nail the runner in his tracks. You could say that Tim was the Johnny Bench of little league baseball at the time.
I had better get on to that fateful play that cost us the championship before you begin to lose interest in this story. Unfortunately, the game was not decided by a masterful play on the field, or a bases-clearing triple by Tim, instead it was a blunder, a momentary lack of focus by me that cost us a championship.
This is where the controversy comes in and has still not been settled by the two major players in what I still term, “The call heard ‘round the town.” I will now set and explain the scene for you as briefly and as accurately as I recall. Keep in mind that if you ever talk with one of my best buddies in life, Dougie Meyers, who happened to be the base runner who benefited most from the play, you will get an entirely different version of what took place at Sayre Park that day.
So here goes.
We were leading by one run in the late innings of the game with opposition runners on second and third base. Meyers, who I always kept a close eye on due to his penchant for trying to steal bases under any circumstances, was on second.
With so much at stake, I took a deep breath, wound up and threw as hard as I could to the plate, trying to strike out the batter to end the inning and get us safely into the dugout. This time, even Tim could not block the atrocity of a delivery that I skimmed off the dirt near home plate. I ran toward home hoping that Tim could retrieve the ball in time for me to tag out the runner who was bolting in to try and score. It was not to be, as I watched in horror as the tying run crossed the plate. All due to my critical miscue.
What happened next is the debate that will go on, I suspect, forever.
Tim tossed me the ball and I walked with my head bowed, slowly and dejectedly back to the mound, feeling angry that I had let my team down, and feeling sorrow for myself all at the same time. That’s when I heard Tim yell, “Vidak!”
I turned quickly toward home plate to see Meyers, as he puts it to this day “twinkle-toeing” toward home at breakneck speed. Timeout had not been called by the umpire so the game was still going, with all moves in play.
I remember clearly the scene that unfolded as I turned toward home. There was Tim, standing at the plate, giving me a target with his mitt. And there was Dougie, halfway to the plate, all engines full-ahead, with the most determined look I have ever spied on anyone’s face. I threw the ball on line to Tim, he put his mitt down in front of the plate and Meyers slid right into the mitt. I raised my fists toward the heavens in triumph, knowing the game was over and the championship trophy was in its rightful place.
I couldn’t believe my ears, and I could not believe my eyes as I looked and saw the ump’s arms outstretched in opposing directions, giving the run to Meyers and the game to the other Glenwood boys.
Meyers leaped toward the celebration that the rest of his team had already launched into. We walked back to the dugout and shed tears that were the size of the every-afternoon thunderstorms we often had back in those days in Glenwood.
I have, through the years, thought about that game and that play often, but never more so than on the afternoon of March 12th. I needed to take a run that day to try and clear my head and make sense of yet another curveball that life often tosses our way. I had just come from Tim Thulson’s memorial service and I was thinking of my old catcher, and high school classmate.
Tim was an accomplished athlete. He excelled in baseball, golf, and was a key player in the 1978 state football championship won by the Glenwood Demons. Tim was also the manager on our ‘79 basketball team, primarily because he wanted to be with his buddies. Tim was a good father, a highly successful attorney here in Glenwood, and mostly he was a good man, never turning his back on anyone who needed his time or his help.
Just like the way it always works when people get older, Tim and I hadn’t kept in touch as much as we probably should have. I can speak for many, though, in telling you that he will be sorely missed.
Most of us weren’t aware that Tim had been having some struggles. Burdens that became too much to bear. We all know that monsters live in the dark, especially the personal ones that we so often refuse to speak of, or seek help for. There are no guarantees or warranties in this life. Tomorrow is never promised to any of us.
I will remain wondering for a long time why I didn’t try to stay in closer touch with him, the way I did when were kids and would sleep in his tree house in West Glenwood, and I will always see Tim as a young boy on that late summer day in 1971 when all the wonderful possibilities of the world lie ahead of us, covered with dirt, as catchers often are, trying his best to help us win a championship.
Tim, I wish you peace.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
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