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Life’s a beach if you can park a baseball there

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POSTED August 25, 2009 8:57 p.m.

If you are under that age where you stop looking back and have that tingle for the good ole’ days and have been watching the clean fundamentals of the Little League World Series, you most certainly have daydreamed.

The blurred streak of a Little League fastball becoming a decreasing sphere headed in the other direction, over a panicked outfielder and fence unable to keep the ball in use. I never had such dreams as a kid. I never imagined I’d tink the ball so squarely it would be launched over a fence, and I could trot the bases.

I wanted to “Beach it.”

Dad taught me to bat left-handed which confused me. I do everything with my right. There weren’t a lot of lefties in the t-ball or Little League programs on the island, so dad put me on the other side of the plate pretty much from the start.

I don’t think his intention was for me to get beaned with the frequency I did, but getting to first base was hardly a rush. I was one of maybe five left-handed hitters in the league, so my femur and rib cage ended up in the way of outside fastballs trained by muscle memory.

The year I made All-Stars I had a Hall of Fame on-base percentage and scored the most runs on my team due, in no small part, to those bruising fastballs and walks.

The left side of the plate grew weeds while the right was filled with more gravel every couple of games. I stole bases when wild tosses left numb, mosquito-bitten hands and sailed into the plywood and fishnet backstop.

That was replaced shortly after one of my teammates took a foul ball off the mandible. Fish net doesn’t really stop baseballs well.

Still, all I wanted was to “Beach it.”

I played shortstop and kicked out mounds of the gravel/sea shell infield to prevent bad hops.

When I pitched, I worked a change-up and fastball that became indistinguishable after four innings of throwing in rainy, 42-degree weather. At that point, it was more about locating the pitch over the plate than bringing the stinky cheese.

On days in the low 40s, my coach put waterlogged baseballs in the oven of the snack bar between innings. He’d call time, and walk to the mound smiling. I kept the ball in my hand, hidden by my soaked glove until I could feel a majority of my fingers, then hurled away.

At this point, a considerable amount of both teams had covered their uniforms with some sort of outer shell, because there is nothing cool about hypothermia after Spring Break.

I didn’t care about the cold, though I shivered plenty. I wanted a different feeling more than that in my fingers. “Beach it”.

I slid in to home, and embedded gravel into my knees, leaving great scabs — badges of honor at that age.

Face-first slides were avoided like farmed salmon. It wasn’t smart to get gravel in your hands, it hurt, but most of us tried it anyway ... not the farmed salmon. After most games I had a bruise from a pitch and shredded knees to show off, but I always longed to “Beach it.”

I wanted the unmatched joy of sending the hanging fastball out into the salty ripples of Bucarelli Bay. Left field was short, and with no fence a shot would land on the beach at low tide, but in the water when the moon gave the ocean back.

There was no trotting in the history of the Prince of Wales Island Little League. No showboating, because pride sent outfielders onto the crab and starfish peppered beach, or into the salty ocean itself to start the relay that might get the kid at home.

I batted left. The right field beach was 100 feet further.

While still in college, a buddy of mine came to Alaska. I took him to my fenceless Little League baseball field for batting practice.

He beached it.

After hundreds of innings, countless mosquito bites, bouts with hypothermia-lite, I still have never beached it.

In the seven days, Matt saw southeast Alaska, he hiked, camped, fished, kayaked...and Beached it.

Oh, well.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.

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