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Volume 15, Issue 1: Historia

History Between the Foul Lines

Chris Schlect

I am in the possession of an important historical artifact. Actually, since the original is so valuable, what I have is a photocopied replica. It is a three-inch clipping from a 1960 number of the Yakima Herald-Republic, a box score reporting the results of a fastpitch softball contest between the Yakima Jaycees and Fairchild-Mayflower. The box score reports that a Jaycee second-baseman named "Schlect" hit one-for-three with two runs batted in and a stolen base.

Is this an important historical artifact? Some modernists would argue that a midseason softball game played on some field in central Washington registered little impact upon our civilization. Of course they're wrong; the box score tells a story of great significance. Perhaps its importance lies not so much in the event it records—the game itself—but in the telling and retelling of that game that has been passed on by family loremongers ever since. Why do I have this box score? Why has it survived, preserved for forty-three years? How did a replica come into my hands?
My father was that second baseman. The youngest of three boys, I was born eight years after Dad was credited with that stolen base against Fairchild-Mayflower. But I remember watching Dad play softball. In our family of five, ball games were family events. When my brothers were in Little League, we all went to their games. When I was old enough to play, we came to my games. Playing ball was part of growing up for me and for my brothers, and playing ball was inseparable from my father. When we all got older, there was one season when all four of us Schlect men were in the same softball lineup. That was a team to remember. By then Dad had moved to pitcher—the soul of the team. He kept up his remarkable on-base percentage with his beautiful, technically-perfect swing. Dad can drive almost any pitch to wherever the outfielders aren't, thereby enabling him to beat out an outfield relay to first base. He often led off, just like Ichiro, only really slow.
My upbringing from the late 1960s and into the `80s was filled with ball playing. It was the era when the expression "Generation Gap" described the chasm that separated older Americans from younger ones. But baseball was a conservative force that countered the chasm. In city parks, baseball was an arena where the generations came together, spoke the same language, espoused the same values, lauded the same heroes, embraced the same heritage, and remained on good terms with one another. My grandmother taught my father to play ball, and my father in turn taught me. When we visited Grandma we were going to the fount, and she explained to us the finer points of bunting. Today I play with my son, and recite to him the same coach's clichés and Yogi-Berra-isms that my father taught me.
Dad never coached a team, but he served three terms as president of our local chapter of Little League. In 1960, at the time of this softball game, more than 27,400 teams participated in more than 5,500 Little Leagues, accounting for about 400,000 kids. In 1997, there were almost three million players enrolled in Little League. Consider the Amateur Softball Association, which annually registers over 245,000 softball teams comprising over 3.5 million players. This doesn't include the stats from the other major softball association, the USSSA. The numbers do not include the many local "parks and rec" leagues, nor competitive school leagues. My 1960 box score is noteworthy because, though it tells one little story, that story is just like millions of other stories like it.
The other significant aspect of this box score is that it records a stolen base by a Schlect. Now we Schlects are notoriously slow runners. Of course, my brothers and I blame Dad for this. But whenever we reminded him how slow he was, he disappeared into his dusty file cabinet and produced this box score. He stole a base. I still insist that it had to have been the backside of a double-steal; the play must have been on the lead runner on third and not on Dad. At any rate, this famous box score, and the sport it comes from, plays into an ongoing family story.
My ten-year-old son, who is fundamentally sound, is also a slow runner. He too understands this box score and its importance. All inside jokes have contexts, and baseball was ours. No doubt millions of other families tell stolen-base stories of their own. Baseball is a remarkable force in history, reminding us that history is not just about revolutions and change. It is about blessed routine and continuity as well. Those who know nature's rhythms understand this continuity. We see all things brighten in the springtime, when all is new and reborn, when the liturgy of Opening Day ushers in a fresh season. The season opens into the summer warmed green infields and outfields. Summer turns into October triumph, then the rains come with their bitter, cold off-season. Year after year, the blessed routine spans generations and generation gaps. And a stolen base is remembered once again.

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