"Big city sissy!"
The next pitch hit the dirt, bounced over the catcher and the umpire and into the stands, so I straightened up and trotted to first. But in the third inning the nightmare had its premi�re. There were four balls hit to me at second base. I've never forgotten them in all the years that I have tried. Each was an easy bouncer with a big handle. I stopped them. That was the easy part. But my throws to first were a little high. Maybe a little more than a little high. They went over the first baseman's head.
It really wasn't as simple as that. If it had been, I don't think those nightmares would have lasted so long. The first ball I shotputted. It got away and sailed out among the cows in the pasture next to the strawberry festival fairgrounds. My arm was throbbing.
The second batter hit another slow bouncer right to me, and I scooped it up and overheaved first, about 12 feet over. My arm felt as if the toast were burning.
The third time the crowd quieted down, as if they were aware that something unearthly was happening at second. I shouldered the ball very quickly, trying, in a way, to sneak it in. But I bounced this one over first, and there were obscene noises. Even now, I sometimes still hear them at night, and it makes me hunch my shoulders and try to duck.
The fourth error was a monument of some kind, like Arnold Palmer's 12 at the Rancho golf course in Los Angeles. I was enveloped in a confusion some baseball players and many Arabs know. I prayed that the ball be hit to anyone except me. When it did come, it came to my left. There was nothing to do except wait. I couldn't fake a stumble and let the rightfielder handle it. I moved halfway to first base and took the ball on the second bounce. There was plenty of time. The runner was slow. And then I did it again, but this time with an almost Biblical grandeur. I had the feeling that a dramatic act would set everything right, and then everyone would forget what had happened before. So I tiptoed daintily toward first, like a bullfighter getting ready to set the banderillas, stopped about 10 feet from the bag and lobbed the ball to Bud Robertson on first. A slow, high, easy arc. It went three feet over his head.
All through high school and partway through World War II, about once a week, I had this nightmare, and it went as I have described it. Sometimes even now I can hear the cackles of the loggers. Judging by their hysteria, it was the brightest moment of the summer of 1935 for most of them.
So I decided to forget baseball. I remembered the Stultz and Bradley message and would work on The Shot. Mine went like this. I stood directly under the hoop, facing the opposite basket. Then I dribbled one step toward the foul line, away from the basket. Without looking back, I lifted the ball, arm straight, eyes on the center circle. From three feet out, I grooved the motion so the ball came off the backboard and fell through the hoop. By moving out one more step, the same motion put the ball through without hitting the backboard. When I made 10 in a row, I moved out another step.
Seven years later, I was shooting from the bottom of the key. Here I settled for eight out of 10, which was a better average than I had shooting free throws. By 1950 I had moved to the foul line, still sighting at the opposite basket and flipping them up without looking. Two years ago I had edged out a couple of feet beyond the top of the key.
Here in Portland there is a basketball tournament at the downtown YMCA every noon, except weekends and Christmas. That's 260 tournaments a year. We play four-on-four, losers out, game is 21. Winners stay, and a new team fights its way up from the other end of the court. None of the players are professionals. Not professional basketball players, that is. Occasionally we'll get a wrestler, and frequently, during the summer, old football players like Mel Renfro, Abe Woodson, Terry Baker and George Shaw show up. No referee; everyone calls his own fouls. Maybe not all—maybe about half.