Saturday, October 22, 2016

How to Beat A Lefty Like Kershaw? A True Tulsa Tale from 1978!


How to Stop A Lefty like Kershaw?

Get inside his head. Flashback 1978 Mickey Mantle Southside Tulsa first half title game. (yes, we played a first half & second half.)
My team Tulsa Western/Heitgras played Tulsa Dillards at Mason Field. This was two of Tulsa's best 16-year old teams. For the uninitiated, this was essentially, Tulsa Mason/Memorial vs. Tulsa Nathan Hale. A dozen players from this game would be voted to The Tulsa Tribune's All-City Team two years later! Memorial won the Oklahoma State 4-A baseball championship in 1980.
Two of Tulsa's legendary youth coaches squaring off--Bob Duncan, former University of Tulsa baseball player and owner of Buck's Sporting Goods, was my coach. Hal Dietz coached Dillard's. Any big game in Tulsa at high school level, Hal Dietz refereed.
Photo Caption: Coach Duncan holding our confiscated water guns at bus stop on way to Mickey Mantle Regional Finals in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

 At stake--First place bragging rights for first half of Mickey Mantle standings. Big time game!




Photo Caption: My battery mate all summer: Robbie Duncan.
 
Starting pitchers were Robby Duncan, right-handed thrower and future Tulsa World Player of the Year, our ace vs. lefty Dale Hamblin. Now, there were two left-handed pitchers growing up in Tulsa you never wanted to face. One was Terry Rupe, my former teammate the previous summer on 1977 Tulsa Babe Ruth State Championship team. I didn't need anyone to tell me about Rupe. I caught him that summer and played against him several times. Thank God he chose to play in the Colt League at Bears Stadium in 1978! The other? Dale Hamblin. He was simply un-hittable. Tall, lanky delivery. Sinking fastball. Wicked curve. If he was left alone to just pitch...Forget it!
 
However, if there was one coach who knew how to mess with pitchers' heads it was Bob Duncan. I'm glad he was my coach! We knew we had to be a bit lucky to win. It helped to have a coach who understood gamesmanship like Bob Duncan.
 
Like most pitchers, Hamblin was superstitious. He wore the same long-sleeved black undershirt every time he pitched. It was like his security-blanky! He also wore a gold chain necklace around his neck. Most coaches looked at Hamblin and saw his fastball. Bob Duncan looked at Dale Hamblin and saw his "soft targets!"
 
Can't hit the opposing pitcher? No problem. Prick with his blanky and jewelry!

Photo caption: A catcher since third grade on my Westside school district team, however, I was a free agent when my team didn't field a Mickey Mantle team in summer of '78. So I had to make this team as a left fielder, since my new team's coaches son was their starting catcher, and did so in a Sunday afternoon try out on the very same Mason Park field we beat Tulsa Dillard's for first place! When our catcher Robbie Duncan decided he would focus on his pitching that summer, I was the starting catcher all season, in State Finals and Regional Finals in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
 
Dillard's won the coin flip and was the home team in our home park across from Tulsa Mason High School. So we were the visitors and occupied first base dugout and batted first. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife!
 
After a couple of pitches, coach Duncan called timeout and walked from the third base coaches box to home plate. He told the home plate umpire, longtime ump Jim Floyd, who called nearly every one of our games, that Hamblin's gold chain necklace was a distraction to our hitters and was bothering us. After a brief discussion, umpire Floyd motioned opposing coach Hal Dietz from the dugout and told him the bad news--his pitcher's lucky necklace would have to go. Argument ensued but Hamblin eventually had to remove his jewelry on the mound! Round One--Bob Duncan!
 
Another inning passed and Bob Duncan once again asked for a time out and trekked to home plate. This time an agitated Hal Dietz, sensing further mischief, joined Duncan from the third base dugout. Dietz must have been thinking, "What could possibly be the problem now? He removed his damn necklace the last inning!"
 
It soon was apparent coach Duncan was now concerned with the black undershirt Dale Hamblin was wearing. But this was more than unnecessary needling on Duncan's part. You see, the shirt was so worn that a half-dollar sized-hole had worn through on the pitchers left sleeve; just below his elbow on his forearm in about the exact spot to distract opposing hitters with a brief flash of flesh tone against the faded black. A clear distraction to opposing hitters!
 
So, another pause in the action that disrupted the pitchers rhythm. But this time it was war. The necklace was one thing but mess with the undershirt? Hamblin, Dietz and half of the standing-room only crowd was now on Jim Floyd's ass! But he wouldn't budge. The shirt had to go! Embarrassed and furious Dale Hamblin had to undress from the mound! He removed his favorite security blanket in front of the entire crowd. Round Two--Bob Duncan.
 
It Gets Worse for Hamblin!
 
As if on cue from the maestro Duncan, the next hitter was Pete Engler. Pete was a better wrestler than baseball player, was not a regular starter on our team (he only had 56 at bats all summer and hit .232 avg.) but seemed destined for this role.
Photo Caption: My teammates: Scott Logsdon, Pete Engler, Mike Robinson and Don Thurman doing their best KISS imitations in Las Cruces, New Mexico hotel room between games.
 
Pete fouled off a couple of pitches before finally hitting a major league fly ball that settled (you guessed right) just over the first baseline about halfway between home plate and first base. It was simply in the cards that Dale Hamblin chose to field the fly ball. He straddled the line facing home plate while looking into the Oklahoma summer sky for seemingly forever, while Pete just stood a few feet away observing. As the ball began its downward descent, Pete began to slowly jog toward first base. And, just about simultaneously with the balls arrival in Hamblin's glove, Pete accelerated, lowered his shoulder into Hamblin's stomach and pile-drove him into the ground.
 
Pete arose with an awe-shucks grin while Hamblin laid motionless on the ground just feet from our dugout.
 
We thought he was dead!
 
As Hal Dietz, Pete Engler, Jim Floyd and the rest of Dillard's players stood over their star pitcher, a hush grew over the crowd.
 
Slowly, Hamblin sat up and eventually stood, brushed himself off, picked up his glove and acknowledged the crowds applause. He did afterall catch the ball so Pete was out. No question.
 
But just when you thought all had returned to normal, Hamblin suddenly decided he had had enough! So he lowered his shoulder and pile-drove Engler into the ground! It was now officially on! Both benches cleared, lots of pushing and shoving ensued. Eventually order was restored as Dietz and Duncan separated Hamblin and Engler from the bottom of the pile.
 
As the teams were separated and returned to their dugouts, heated discussions ensued at home plate. Duncan and Dietz made their cases to Jim Floyd, who seemed to be listening with one ear and clearly had had enough. He soon raised his hand and declared to toss not only Engler, who in his opinion clearly intentionally tried to interfere with Hamblin if not hurt him, and Hamblin from the game! Round Three-Bob Duncan.
 
Ballgame!
 
 
With their ace now fuming and watching from the dugout and our reserve, wrestler grinning from our bench, Tulsa Western went on and won the game.

We not only won the first half of the season but went on to finish 41-9, win the State Championship and finish one out from Mickey Mantle World Series in The South Plains Regional in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Not sure if pitching wardrobe adjustments still work but they did 38-years ago in Tulsa!

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