Fungo fun gone

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The recent reminiscence about Mr. Prosser and the three-way cribbage board put me in mind of the time that gentleman built us boys a gundo bat -- I have been working the dictionary to see if my lingo is still current. It's been a long time since my exploit on the baseball sandlot, and another long time since I heard mention of an inshoot, an outshoot, and a drop. The slider was never in my time, but it has been around long enough to make the dictionary. I find the inshoot and the outshoot, but the unabridged lacks the drop. The drop was the only pitch I had, other than an overhand fireball, and the only time I ever had to pitch (our regular pitcher was out of town) I threw drops for a third of an inning an d the opposition scored eight runs. Fungo is in the dictionary, and so is pepper game. Mr. Prosser made us a special bat we used for fungo and pepper.

A fungo bat is different because it is not used in the game to swing at a pitched ball. Mr. Prosser made ours of poplar wood; a light, fragile bit of lumber that he sandpapered well and finished with the old-time buggy varnish that took 18 days to dry. Rubbed down between coats with pumice stone and oil, the bat came to have the shine of a Baldwin piano. What made this bat extra-special was the pipe-boring rig Mr. Prosser had in his barn attic, a hand-me- down from the days when his grandfather made conduits or, in the Maine way, condoots.m

Oak logs, usually, were lined up on a series of wooden horses, and a spoon auger on a long steel rod was turned to dig out a hole along the heart of the log. Water pipes made that way were common in early days, and once underground they wouldn't deteriorate with time, but would continue to flow water for a century. The rig was precisely line up so the spoon auger would stay straight in the log. So Mr. Prosser used this antique tool to bore a hole through the center of our fungo bat. Which gave him a thin tube of delicate poplar wood.

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Then he cut plugs of good Spanish cork, something used in our salt-water town for lifejackets, and he made cork stoppers enough to fill this center hole. Each end was closed with a wooden plug glued home, and there was the neatest fungo bat any ball club ever owned. Light as a feather, shaped perfectly for its purpose, it made our pepper games faster than ever. When Mr. Prosser brought it over to give it to us, he hit a few to show that it worked as intended. As he left he said, "Now, don't never, under any circumstances, ever swing it at a pitched ball. It ain't made for that. Use it right, and it will last." It lasted a long time. As I would guess now, so many years after, we used it for fungoes and pepper three seasons. Then we played Richmond.

We never had too much trouble with Richmond. They had a coach that like to rag an umpire, and when we played Richmond we always got Tinker-Joe Blake to umpire. He was quick with a rejoinder, and was able to keep the coach fairly quiet. But this day richmond built up a lead, and we didn't hear much from the coach and Tinker-Joe just umpired. In those days we had one umpire to a game and he stood behind the pitcher. So we came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, down nine to six, and the last third of our order. I stepped to the plate.

The first two pitches sounded a little high to me, but Tinker-Joe called them strikes, and I dug in for the next pitch. I got a soft bingle over second and was on. Then Pokey Strout pinch hit, and stepped in front of an inshoot. He was good at that, and could make even an outside pitch look like a beanball. Next Jim Hunter struck out, but the catcher dropped the ball and Jim made it to first. You could look it up. There we were, bases loaded and nobody out, with our lead-off man coming to the plate, Toady McIntyre. Toady could hit the long ball. The Richmond coach was now beginning to rag Tinker-Joe, hopping to get us up in a heaval, and we three baserunners led off.

Well, maybe you guessed already what happened. In his excitement Toady ran to the bat rack and grabbed up MR. Prosser's cork-lined poplar fungo bat, and when he swung and connected with the first pitch the thing exploded into splinters, and cork stoppers flew all over the diamond. The ball dropped dead, and confused by the chips and stoppers, the catcher didn't find it. We all ran, and Toady got a home run on a ten- inch line drive. We won, 10-9, but lost our fungo bat.

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