I grew up on the family farm in the 1950’s and 60’s. Outside of being a farmer for life I wanted most of all to be a major league baseball pitcher. Not just a pitcher, but a flame thrower like Sandy Koufax! I had grown up listening to the Reds on the radio with Waite Hoyt as the announcer, the former Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher. In those days the games weren’t televised in the frequency that they are today so I had to tune in the radio and listen to the play by play and imagine in my mind how a game would go.
Through the years I listened with a religious faith to the Reds I was fortunate to be listening to some of the greatest to have ever played the game. Some of these players were almost God-like to a youngster like me. The names of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Maris, and Williams were every day in the lineup, but when it came to pitchers, they were a class all their own. So good were the pitchers that major league baseball lowered the pitching mound to make it more even for the hitter. Names like Koufax, Drysdale, Perry, Gibson and my very favorite from the Reds was Jim Maloney. I followed the box scores and every pitch these men threw for they were what I wanted to be, and maybe even better if I worked at it.
I matured early and by the seventh grade I was at my full growth of 5”8” in height with big arms and broad shoulders from all the work I did on the farm. Realizing that I could throw a baseball pretty hard, I decided to pursue being a pitcher in school, so in junior high I got my brother Ben to become my trainer, since he lived on our other farm very close to us.
Since I did throw hard Dad decided it be wise that my practicing was done on the end of the house which was brick that had a chimney and no windows. I guess Dad figured it would reduce expenses. Ben and I had the desire to make me a pitcher of value. Every open evening and on Sundays, Ben and I took our places in front of the wall and tossed. Now my brother was never a pitcher that could throw hard but he learned how to throw pitches that hitters had trouble hitting. He taught me the curveball, the screwball, the slider, a change-up, and even a knuckle ball. I had the fast ball but Ben showed me how to make it even faster. One evening as we were practicing and my Dad was calling the balls and strikes I threw a couple of pitches at a velocity I had not before reached. The result was that the pitches got past Ben and hit the brick wall and left cracks in the bricks and mortar. My thought was quickly Dad is going to be mad over this. Ben’s impression was “my little brother can crack a brick wall with a fastball!” Which to you sounds more impressive?
To this day I don’t know how the word got spread, but it did and I was ready to enter into the eighth grade at Felicity. One night the superintendent came to our house and he wanted to see as he put it, “the mortar breaker pitch.” Talk about nervous. Before we began to throw Ben came to me and said now just throw like it was any other time and try your hardest to forget who was watching.
We warmed up and then I went into my hard throwing. I threw a few fastballs that I admit were maybe the hardest I ever threw. Then I threw a couple of wicked curves. Then Ben called for a screwball and I laid a couple in that were great. Finally Ben walked out to me and said, “Lets show him how its done” and he called for a knuckleball. I began to balk at this but with his confident smile I knew all was in order and threw three awesome knuckleballs. . When we finished the exhibition, the superintendent said he was impressed and guaranteed me a starting positionat pitcher I could have floated into space.
In a few weeks I went to practice with a team of boys I had never seen or met. We held a scrimmage game and I pitched pretty well. I allowed I think a couple runs and struck out eight or nine batters. Life was good but the next game was against Hamersville and there was one obstacle I hadn’t overcome- a pitcher’s mound. I took the mound and that day I pitched a no-hitter. I either walked or hit every batter I faced and after Hamersville had a 6 to 0 lead I was removed to right field where I remained the rest of my playing days.
I couldn’t conquer the angle of the mound and all I could throw was wild pitches. My dream was put to rest that day and I really didn’t mind. I didn’t care for all the attention and inside of me I knew I was one of the hardest throwers around. But the last thing I remember and recall to this day was when our catcher called time and came to the mound. Bill said, “I just want to let you know that those guys are really getting ticked off by being hit so much. You might want to stop.” I wish I could have.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to tell stories about his youth and other topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.