Friday, May 19, 2023

Insight: A saga of humiliation and redemption

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Sometimes just the scent of freshly cut grass can take me back or if I close my eyes real tight and think about baseball, I am transported through time to the playing fields behind Brookside School and my days as a Little Leaguer.

The 1964 Brighton Little League Minors Division Reds. 
Right Fielder Ed Pierce is at far left in the front row.
For two seasons in 1963 and 1964, I was a member of the Brighton Little League Reds, a Minors Division squad for 9- and 10-year-old boys. Many of my neighborhood friends were on the same team and a few kids from public school that I didn’t know, since I attended Catholic school. Our coach was Mr. Lansky, a physical education instructor and a devoted fan of Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants.

Our first practice in 1963 was held in the gym at Brookside School in the Evans Farm subdivision in early April because snow was still on the ground outside. The team lined up in a straight row and our coach would roll ground balls to us. Our task was to use our baseball gloves to prevent the balls from getting past us and not being able to do that, the coach determined that I was probably better suited for an outfield position than to be a Reds infielder.

Within a few weeks the snow had melted, and we were outside taking batting practice in our flannel uniforms. Our first baseman, Randy Edelman, had a keen batting eye and was able to drive the ball farther than anyone else on the Reds team. My pal Billy Whitney was a slick fielder and became our shortstop while one of my neighbors, David Ronner, played third base and was our leadoff hitter. Our pitcher was my fourth-grade classmate, John Crow, who was able to throw strikes consistently.

As for me, I was relegated to playing right field for the Reds and constantly prayed that no baseballs were hit my way so I could demonstrate my woeful lack of defensive ability and awkward throwing.

Having never played Little League before, I was the worst batter in the Minors Division too. No matter how hard I tried, my strikeouts piled up. Coach Lansky had me batting ninth for most games and opposing players would yell “automatic out” at me when I stepped up to bat. The first season I played, despite encouragement from my teammates, I played in 12 of the Reds’ 16 regular season games and in every at bat that season, I struck out. The Reds team finished 6-10 and I felt I had let my teammates down.

The next year, 1964, I resolved to become a better player and as far as playing in the outfield that season, I was. At the start of the schedule, I was splitting time in right field with my classmate, Rick Walsh, but after a few games, he was diagnosed with severe diabetes requiring hospitalization. I surprised myself with improved defense, catching several fly balls hit to right field and making better throws to back into the infield, but something was still lacking whenever I stepped in to hit.

Coach Lansky had moved me up to seventh in the batting order for my second year of Little League, but I was still striking out every time up, except for the time that a pitcher hit me in the back with an errant fastball. I played in every game that year and the Reds made the playoffs, finishing 9-7 and in fourth place in our division during the regular season.

In the playoffs, we won our first two games behind pitchers John Crow and Patrick O’Herlihy, another Catholic school classmate. In the semifinals, we were trailing the Cubs, 6-2, with the bases loaded in the third inning and two outs when it was my turn to bat. I looked over at the bench at my teammates before grabbing my bat and all I saw were worried looks and Edelman, who was our catcher that year, was putting on his shin guards. I promptly struck out on three pitches.

The Reds won our semifinal playoff game over the Cubs, 7-6, and in the league championship game against the Braves, early on, I misplayed a ball hit my way and two runs scored for the Braves. We were able to hold them though and trailed 2-0 in our last time up. Ronner walked, took second on a fielder’s choice and Whitney singled him home to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Edelman popped out. Crow singled and both he and Whitney advanced to second and third. So here I was, the winning run on second base with two outs in the last inning and I’m up. Coach Lansky pulled me aside, telling me to keep my eyes open as the pitcher delivered the ball to the plate.

I miraculously swung and hit the first pitch, knocking it over the shortstop’s head and Crow raced home with the game- and championship-winning run as we won, 3-2. The only base hit I ever had in Minors Division play erased two years of frustration for me and snapped what seemed like a two-year 0-for-87 strikeout streak.

Decades later, the thing I remember the most about my Little League experience that season is being mobbed at first base for my lone hit that year. <

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