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Volume 8, Issue 4: Whole Counsel

The Asphalt Guy

Chris Schlect

My father, E.D. "Ed" Schlect, P.E.--as his business cards read--is a nationally-recognized expert on asphalt paving. If expressions like AR4000 and chip seal mean anything to you, and they should, then you've heard of him. But he's not just an engineer who delivers seminars, writes for trade journals, and dispenses billable advice. He knows baseball too--not stats and trivia, but the game itself. Space doesn't allow me to describe his landscaping prowess, the best in the neighborhood; and pride inhibits me from relating how he womps me in racquetball, though I'm over three decades younger than he. Above anything else, he's just my dad.

Dad cut his teeth on slide rules and drafting tables--no calculators or CAD. I used to have multiplication races with him; I used a calculator, and he used his head. I'd call out, "What's 43 times 31?" and though the answer was only six buttons away, he usually beat me to it. If our answers differed, I must have hit a wrong button. We played this on car trips when we weren't admiring scenery. And for the Schlect family, the road itself was the scenery:
"What are those bumps in the road, Dad?"
"Slabs from the old pavement are shifting underneath, and the seams are coming through the surface. They paved over it without first putting down new aggregate."
"Hey, look at that huge wall of gabions!"
The discussion may not excite you, but I enjoyed it more than Eastern Washington landscapes. Mom loved it, too. On their first date, Dad wooed her with discourses on viscosity and tensile strength. She was smitten, as any girl would be. Thus Dad's technical mind won the hand of the pretty May Queen, belle of the whole W.S.U. campus, and he has loved her for thirty-seven years. (When I attended W.S.U. years later, I habitually hunted down copies of the '59 yearbook and showed off Mom's picture to my friends.)
Dad used to take us out for batting practice. Standing at the mound, he would pick a glovefull of scuffed hardballs out of his old Budweiser duffel (a relic from his fastpitch softball days) and pitch to us until the duffel was empty. Then we would collect the batted balls, which were scattered to the four winds, and resume after the Bud bag had been replenished. And Dad says he lacks the patience for coaching!
I wish I could have seen him back in the early 1950s in his Moxee Red Devils uniform, especially the day he pitched an upset win over Zillah. Dad still has the game ball--the "Zillah Ball" we call it--stashed away somewhere. He was quite a legend in his day. Once my brother and I snooped Dad's high-school yearbooks out from grandma's basement. One classmate called him "a swell class president," and another, "a swell pitcher," and still another, "a swell team captain." (The Moxee class of '53 had a wide repertoire of adjectives. Swellness runs with high viscosity in Dad's blood. Ask Mom about viscosity.)
I still remember Dad's cardinal rules of fielding: use two hands to catch a fly; for grounders, keep the ball in front of you and your glove down. (These were corollaries to the three general house rules: obey Mom and Dad, be kind to one another, and never say "cement" when you mean "concrete.") I don't recall any particular occasion when Dad taught these things, but I vividly remember that I learned them from him. That was his way: he was patient with us, and he spoke only the right words at just the right time. Dad gave us more pointers about character and sportsmanship than he did about skills. This was especially so when my brother became serious about baseball. Dad used humor to make his point, and posted classic Yogi Berra quotes on my brother's door ("You can observe a lot by watching"; "Ninety percent of the game is half mental"). This light tone set the proper context for occasions of stern instruction that came when needed. Throughout our youth, my brothers and I played for many teams and many coaches, but Dad was the one who taught us about the game. From him we learned to play well, to compete, and to enjoy the game. More importantly, he taught us to be gentlemen. (We had to be gentlemen; Mom wouldn't have it any other way.)
My favorite ball-playing days came later, when I was old enough to play on the same softball team as Dad. Dad pitched. He remembered every batter: pitch this guy deep, the next inside, this one always takes the first pitch, etc. He pitched outside-corner to pull hitters, then surprised them with an inside ball that they would eagerly foul off. At bat he was a precise base-hitter. His batting average was always better than mine, and among the best on the team. But what he had going for him in on-base percentage he made up for in base running speed. He would routinely stretch a double into a single, and was sometimes in danger of being passed by the runner behind him. We kidded him about his speed--which we inherited--and he ably defended himself: "I move pretty fast for the speed I'm going," or, "At least I hit it far enough to beat the relay to first base." Somewhere in his archives he keeps a clipping of a box score from his Budweiser days, which credits him with a stolen base. He occasionally produces it to remind us that he's faster than we say he is, though my brothers and I maintain that he must have been at the tail of a double-steal.
My two brothers are engineers. I'm the family oddball: I gave up engineering for history and baseball for soccer. Dad assures me that he wouldn't want it any other way. I still apply everything he taught me, for he didn't raise his sons to be ball players, he raised his ball players to be sons. I love him for it. Now Mom and Dad tell me they're proud of me. I've never been so honored.

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