Batter Up — Top of the Eighth
The Magical Powers of the Homerun Cherry Pit
We played a lot of whiffle ball in the summertime in the alley between Brookline Boulevard and Berkshire Avenue in the Brookline section of Pittsburgh. I have such fond memories of that — it seemed like the whole world was right then. I had friends, good friends, who loved to play like I did, and we played for what seemed like hours on summer days that felt like they would never end.
“Left Field” was a spacious open area leading to the big wall that was the side of the Foodland store. The only way to hit a home run in that direction was to hit it so far, and away from the left fielder, that you could circle the bases before they got that plastic ball back in to stop you.
Right Field, however, was a much shorter in distance, but had a couple of garages that you had to clear with the ball in order to have an automatic home run. For right-handed batters this was harder to do, since you tended to pull the ball towards left field when you swung hard enough to produce a big fly ball. The garage to the left of the two was usually your best bet for a homerun, if you were trying to go in that direction for a homerun.
I got my fair share of homeruns, not nearly as many as my friend Pete Kribel, but a lot more than any of the Tepes got. Billy Tepe was especially not much of a power hitter. He simply didn’t have the confidence at the plate to hit the ball with any real authority.
However, one summer something happened to change all of that. The Tepes had a cottage somewhere out in the country, in the mountains that surrounded Pittsburgh in that part of Pennsylvania. I had been invited along for a long weekend at their cottage. On Saturday night, we had the Pittsburgh Pirates game on the radio, Bob Prince calling the play by play. The Pirates were playing the Reds of Cincinnati in a close contest that had us all glued to every called play.
We were helping Mrs. Tepe prepare for some pies she was planning to bake, specifically cherry pies. We were removing the seeds from the cherries and placing the seedless cherries into a big pot. It was the bottom of the 9th and the Pirates were trailing the Reds by a couple of runs. They got a couple of runners on base, but were down to their last out. The pitcher was due up, so they sent a pinch-hitter in to bat up. They had a left-handed pinch-hitter at the time, a fellow named Jerry Lynch, who wasn’t good enough in the field to be an everyday player, but certainly had some pop in his bat, and could on occasion launch a bomb that cleared the shorter right field wall at Forbes Field.
The drama of the moment had us all caught up in it, as Prince would make the call after each pitch, and it seemed like Lynch was up there forever, taking several called balls, then fouling off one pitch after another. The excitement mounted to the point where Prince intoned, “Here’s the wind-up and the pitch, Lynch swings and sends a long fly ball to the deep right-center corner, Pinson is going back, back, looking up for the ball, and ….. YOU CAN KISS IT GOODBYE!!!! Jerry Lynch has just delivered another pinch-hit homerun to win the ballgame — HOW SWEET IT IS!!!!”
Well, we went nuts in the cottage, and cherries went flying, pits and all, and the unpitted cherries got all mixed up with the pitted ones, and we didn’t care. We did our best to sort them all out, and thought we had gotten all the unpitted cherries out of the pot, but…
The next night, as we all dug into Mrs. Tepe’s delicious, fresh-baked cherry pie, Billy cried out, “I just ate a pit — I think I swallowed it!” We all laughed and I said, “That’s the homerun cherry pit! Billy, from now on, you’re going to be a power hitter in whiffle ball. You ate the homerun pit!”
Sure enough, back in Brookline the following week, as we got a pickup game of whiffle ball going in the alley down the street, little Billy Tepe strode to the plate with what looked like a bit of a swagger, took a mighty cut at the first pitch thrown his way, and he got all of it. That ball took off, high in the air towards the second garage in right field, and we all watched in awe as that ball cleared that garage roof with about 15 feet to spare. He had really blasted that one out! Billy danced his way around those bases with the biggest grin I’d ever seen on his face, while we all looked on with dumbfounded looks of incredulity. From that day on, Billy could always be counted on to get a homerun in the clutch. He could hit that whiffle ball with authority.
We all attributed it to that Jerry Lynch Homerun Cherry Pit, but in truth, swallowing that pit had only given him the confidence to do what he was always capable of doing, but never really thought he could…until he did.
A fond memory of a great moment in the annals of the Berkshire Avenue Brookline Whiffle Ball Club.
And that concludes the top of the 8th. Stay tuned for the concluding 3 stories to this series — I’ll see you all in the bottom of the 8th. Until then, “Play Ball”!!!!