July 17, 2008

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Whenever I confess to be a Cubs fan (obviously it is easier to do that right now when they are in first place) I often get asked (well after I get berated, belittled and bemoaned) how can I pick a Chicago team above the local favorites, the St. Louis Cardinals?

My fatherís family calls Davenport home, and all of the sports nuts in my lineage are huge fans of the Cubbies. But probably the biggest factor in my choice of allegiances was WGN. Growing up in Kirksville, I saw far more Cubs games on television thanks in large part to the Superstation. Well that and the fact that the Cubs easily played the most day games of any squad in Major League Baseball, giving me even more opportunity to pass an afternoon cheering on the ďlovable losersĒ.

At risk of sounding like a couch potato, I can trace another one of my sports traditions back to my television viewing habits. I had an old TV in my room and on summer days when there was nothing better to do, I can remember being a regular viewer of the ABC Wide World of Sports, more from necessity (not a lot of options since I wasnít hooked up to the satellite dish) than choice. I can still hear that infamous introduction theme, ďthe thrill of victoryÖ and the agony of defeatÖĒ

So in honor of that show I decided to dedicate this column to my Wide World of Sports. Sort of ironic, as the ABC version was first created as a filler, bridging the void created by the slower summer sports season. Thatís what my rendition is doing as well.

It is an easy transition, as this summer has been filled with plenty of thrills of victory. And not to disappoint all the readers that enjoy stories from the other side of the aisle, there has been some agony of defeat also.

My biggest thrills have been produced by my daughters as they worked through a successful summer softball season.

Abigayle met the challenge of playing for two different teams, including moving up an age group to compete with the big girls. She held her own and rewarded us for our bleacher behind syndromes with one stellar game in particular. The seven-year-old caught a pair of pop outs at second base and also filled two or three ground balls to record outs at first. I was most impressed when she picked up a grounder and tagged the runner heading from first to second, and then threw to first to try and get the double play.

Katie Grace faced a similar challenge. The kindergartener was moved up an age level, playing on her sisterís eight-and-under team. Her smallish strike-zone frustrated the pitcher (me) but she rewarded me on several nights by smacking my bad pitches for base hits. She did a good job in the field, pausing from her conversations with fellow outfielders long enough to run down the ball and throw it back to the right base.

My kids produced all the thrills thus far this summer.

Iím responsible for the agony of defeat.

For the first time in a decade, I decided to play slow pitch softball again. Well my comeback didnít last long. After tweaking my hamstring in the season-opening practice tournament, I had a complete blowout in our second game. Itís pretty embarrassing, because I had made it known amongst my teammates that I was only there to have fun and not to expect me to be taking any extra bases. I promised that I would never slide, at least not on purpose, nor would I ever pass anyone on the bases.

But when I came to the plate for my second at bat of the night, I noticed my wife had brought the kids to watch. Now Iím always hounding them to run hard, so I felt the need to lead by example. So when I blooped a hit into the gap in the outfield, my body was forced to go far harder than I ever intended to go on the slow pitch softball diamond. Without my tender audience, I would have settled for a slow trot to first base, but with my impressionable viewers in the stands, I decided I must go for a double.

Unfortunately my hamstring wasnít prepared to back up my mind. About half way to first base my sudden burst of speed resulted in a terrible popping sound. The back of my left leg immediately caught fire. Somehow I avoided collapsing in a heap as I halted my momentum. Apparently my awkward steps warned my teammates that I was in trouble. Fortunately for me, they spotted my need for a pinch runner, saving me having to cry out for aid.

Two weeks later, Iím still hobbling around a bit and the back of my leg is black and blue. The injury was too late for my wife to cancel her orders for a new bat (Fatherís Day) and a new glove (anniversary gift) so I guess Iíll have to postpone my comeback until 2009 just in time for the next installment of my Wide World of Sports.

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