Claude Laplante stood on the pitcher’s mound and looked toward home plate.
Walking up for his at-bat was a tall, lanky lefty. Laplante was familiar with his dangerous foe — he found an opening between first and second in his last bat, ripping a shot that rolled all the way to the outfield fence.
You’re up again already?” Laplante joked before delivering him the pitch – this time tossing some chin music directly at him.
Of course, this was Winter Texan softball and not the Major Leagues, so the batter caught the ball, fans and players alike laughed and joked about the “brushback” pitch and the game continued.
But on the very next pitch: Boom!
A blast even deeper and harder than the previous one launched like a rocket from his bat this time, again reaching the outfield fence as the Pine-to-Palm batter rounded the bases for a solo home run.
Fans went bonkers for their team, teammates and opponents showed great sport and, maybe, most importantly, the smell of freshly cooked hot dogs filled the air. After all, what is a day at the ballpark without a hot dog...or two?
On this day, the Victoria Palms Legends and Pine-to-Palm Tigers battled it out at the Harlon Block Sports Complex – Field 4 – in one of several Winter Texan softball leagues peppered across the Rio Grande Valley.
There are no contracts being played for, but there is competition. The Legends are just a second-year team in the league but, according to Brian MacPherson, they are having as much fun as any team in the league.
“We may not win them all,” he joked. “But we have fun in them all.”
An Ontario native who left Canada after high school and became a U.S. citizen, MacPherson doesn’t have a resume of baseball awards in high school, or plaques on his wall from the “beer leagues” that can be found all over the country. He did, however, have a desire to stay fit, get some exercise and enjoy some camaraderie. Thus, his venture into the softball world.
“I’ve always been interested in playing, but just started two and a half years ago in Rochester, Minn., where we spend our summers,” he said. “Then, when the park was trying to form a team, I got excited to join. At our age we need all the exercise we can get.”
The rules are a little different. There are run limits – no more than five runs per inning – and there are runners for hitters; they don’t have to wait til the hitter takes residence on a base to be a pinch-runner. As soon as the ball his hit, the runner is taking off for the hitter.
“Claude has a way with words out there,” MacPherson said of the team’s pitcher. “We were playing one game where the batter yelled out for a runner and so I went out and Claude says ‘Hey, they want a runner, not a walker’.”
Games from this league are played every Tuesday and Thursday.
MacPherson said that if anyone is interested in playing softball they need to check with their park’s office.
“The teams are very close,” he said. “We applaud and clap for everybody no matter what they hit or don’t hit. When somebody catches a fly ball or grounder, we’re like ‘way to go, great job.’ And, at the end of the game, teams line up and high five one another. It’s a great time.”
The fun was clear from the players to the fans. Not even Laplante’s attempted bean ball could turn a beautiful day into a benches clearing brawl.
And of course, there’s the hot dogs...