Softball

Back in the 1970s, I played on a softball team called the Rixeyville Raiders (named after a nearby community).

We were a ragtag bunch, but we had a lot of fun, and although I have played on maybe two dozen baseball and softball teams over the years, my time with the Raiders was the most enjoyable.

I don’t really remember who started the team, but I do recall that I joined at some point after the initial season began. I knew about two-thirds of the players, so I had no trouble fitting in.

Several of us had a strong baseball background. In fact, that first year I played softball with the Raiders only on evenings when I wasn’t playing baseball with Clover Hill over in the Rockingham County League.

Over there, we had a fine old baseball field the team had been using (and improving) for several generations. The Rixeyville Raiders played in a cow pasture—literally.

The land, which was flat and lay down along a stream, belonged to a man whose son played on the team. It was a back pasture and lent itself to softball.

Still, the cows grazed there when we weren’t playing, so the first order of business before any practice or game was to take a couple of shovels and remove the manure piles from the infield and outfield. Stepping in a cow pile while chasing a fly ball could be a slippery situation.

Someone had fashioned a wire backstop before I joined the team and there was a regulation home plate. Bases, however, were feed sacks filled with sand at first, but soon we got regulation bases.

Later that season, one of the players got an old snow fence from the highway department (now VDOT). In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, these wooden picket fences were placed in fields along stretches of roadway that were prone to drifting problems during snows.

By the 1970s, however, VDOT had all but abandoned that strategy and was selling (or sometimes giving away) the old fences. These barriers, made—I think—from redwood slats, were perfect for outfield fences, because they would be held up by metal T-posts and taken down, rolled up and stored in a shed after the softball season was over.

We really didn’t need a fence in left field, which went on forever, but right field was a different matter entirely. One of our bitter rivals was a team organized by Steve and Bob Coffey, and Bob was a big old left-handed batter who could hit the ball a long way to right.

Well, the creek flowed out in right field, and when Coffey hit the ball over the fielder’s head, it usually wound up in the water. Then someone had to go fish it out, which slowed the game considerably. Then, too, we had to play with a wet ball for an inning or two.

Sometimes, however, it didn’t roll all the way into the water but just halfway down the bank where it wound up in the middle of a blackberry thicket. Those briars could draw blood from someone trying to retrieve the game ball.

The snow fence solved this problem, at least for the most part. Occasionally someone would hit one over the barrier and into the creek, but no longer did balls in the gap roll into the water.

Most of the time, we just picked up games here and there, but one year we played in a league based in Warrenton. Everyone else had a really nice town field, but all we had was a cow pasture off a dirt road that was way off the beaten path (no GPS in those days).

Still, the grass was green, the land was flat and the shade of the woods to the east and west kept the summer evenings cool for the wives and girlfriends who watched from their lawn chairs.

Umpires were a big problem and once we had to resort to convincing a friend who was legally blind to call balls and strikes. The Warrenton team, of course, didn’t know this and it didn’t present too much of a problem because in slow- pitch softball most of the pitches are hit.

But there was one pitch that was two feet outside that our buddy called a strike. The opposing batter, in somewhat disbelief, questioned the call.

“Well, it sounded good to me,” the poor-sighted umpire replied.

The game continued without incident.

As I said, I have played on some fine baseball fields with some really talented players, but I never had more fun than during the years when the Rixeyville Raiders played in that old cow pasture, which we jokingly called Sikes Memorial Stadium (named after the player whose father owned the land).

It was a throwback to the early days of the 20th century, when neighborhood teams didn’t need fancy fields to play ball and have fun.

We had some fine old times.

Donnie Johnston:

djohn40330@aol.com

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