Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Ball . . . Please

The mighty Ball Player
At the Stringam ranch, size definitely mattered. Average was never good enough. The buildings were oversized The land was oversized. The animals were oversized.
Well, at least that's how everything looked to me.
I was four.
One thing that was larger than normal was the barnyard and I know that because . . . well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The game of preference among the ranch residents was baseball.
On summer evenings, all of the hired men would gather around the radio, and later, the TV, to cheer their heroes in the national pastime.
I had no idea what it was that so interested them. All I knew was that this was the one time in the week that everyone stayed put. And paid proper attention to the most important person on the ranch.
On evenings when no game was being broadcast, and once all of the animals had been properly tucked in for the night, those same hired men would challenge each other - and any one else who could swing a bat - to a game of pick-up.
In the barnyard. (Remember what I said about size . . .?)
I was always parked safely atop the fence and charged with the solemn duty of being the sole member of the audience.
They told me it was because I was the best at cheering. But I knew differently. It was because they feared my 'heavy hitter' status.
Well, if they wanted me to cheer. Cheering was what they would get.
Enthusiasm, I had.
Unfortunately, staying power, I didn't.
Inevitably, something would distract me. A cat. Dog. Butterfly. Imagined cat, dog or butterfly. Clouds. Grass.
And quite often, the game went far past my all-important bedtime - which, I might point out, came while the sun was still high in the sky and which was a terrible waste of daylight, in my opinion.
But I digress . . .
It was the most magical Saturday. One in a summer. When the haying is finished and the evening chores are still hours away.
Time for the annual Saturday afternoon baseball game.
Even my mom left her evening meal preparations and myriad other duties and joined us. (I should point out here that Mom was probably the best hitter of the lot - a fact that rather irked most of the hired men.)
My Mom, Dad and brother, George, were playing on a team with two of the men. My elder brother Jerry, sister Chris and four other men made up the other side.
I was, once more, on the fence.
The game was pretty much tied up.
Whatever that meant.
Al was up to bat and there was a strange gleam in his eye.
Not that I could see it. On the fence. Remember?
He nailed that ball and it sailed straight and fast, over the heads of our intrepid outfielders, and towards the barn. The new barn. With brand new windows.
One of which did not survive what happened next.
Everyone gasped and winced when the tinkle of breaking glass reached us a split second later.
Our only ball disappeared inside.
Time was called as everyone scrambled towards the barn.
Al was left at home plate, still clutching the bat, a look of horror on his face.
For the next half-hour, we searched for that ball.
The shattered window bore mute evidence of it having passed this way. But it was not to be found.
Directly inside the row of windows was a corridor which ran in front of the tie-stalls and allowed for feeding. On one side of this corridor, the outside wall, on the other, solid, wood planks reaching to a height of about five feet and forming the front of the stalls. Then there were the stalls themselves. Then another, wider corridor. And on the other side of that space, the tack rooms.
Every square inch of the tack rooms, stalls and in fact, the whole lower floor of the barn were minutely searched.
No ball.
And chore time was fast approaching.
And people were talking about Al's hit as having been 'over the fence'. There were several long faces as the members of the opposite side acknowledged that Al's team had just drawn into the lead by one run.
Those people frantically began sifting through the hay in the mangers. The straw on the floor.
Still no ball.
"If we don't find it soon," my dad said, "we'll have to quit. We have to do the chores before it gets dark."
Redoubled efforts.
Still no ball.
Then Al, he of the mighty swing, walked over to the broken window to inspect the damage more closely.
"Well, here it is!" he said.
The rest of us turned to look. Sure enough, he was holding our baseball.
"Where was it?" Dad asked.
"Here. On the windowsill."
"What?" Everyone clustered around.
"Yeah. It was sitting here on the windowsill."
"But how could that be?" Mom asked. "It went through the window like a shot. We all saw it."
"I dunno. I just found it sitting here on the windowsill."
"Well, that is strange."
They probably figured out instantly what had happened, but I had climbed on one of the horses and missed the dénouement.
Fairly typical for someone with my short attention span.
The game went on and the incident was relegated to an amusing side note in a (with the exception of the broken window) very fun afternoon.
It was years before I figured out exactly what had happened.
The ball had smashed the window, still going at a fairly hefty pace. Then it had bounced off the heavy planks of  the tie stalls just inside and bounced right back onto the ledge.
Simple logic.
Don't know why it took me so long to figure out . . .

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