Weeds: Even comely places need some help

“Comely” is a word we don’t use much. It means attractive, pleasing, in a subtle way. It comes from Old English “cumli” which is exquisite and Old German “kaum” which is more like tender or frail.

This is leading to my choice for the comeliest place on Earth. First, we have to go to Leavenworth. Leavenworth is a village south and west of me. There are a few houses. Most of Leavenworth is Mathiowetz Construction. The Church of Japanese Martyrs is there with its bucolic buildings and cemetery. On the west side of town is the fine baseball park.

Tucked in the middle of Leavenworth is the softball field. Softball fields today come in complexes. These are efficient places with fields going off in every direction and big parking lots. Leavenworth ballpark is definitely not a “complex.” You turn by the township hall and park on the lawn that leads to the ballfield. It is surrounded by picnic tables, trees here and there, the church to the west, and construction equipment to the east.

I helped coach daughter Abby’s team there a few years ago. All season, in the middle of intense games, the church bells rang. The bright bells ring parts of “Westminster Chimes” on the quarter hour and then all of it with bongs to tell the time on the hour. The melody is familiar and hymn-like. It comes from Handel’s “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

I remember being in the first base coach’s box and thinking how beautiful this all was: kids playing a game, families all around, the cool of a Minnesota evening, the sound of the church bells drifting over all. Right there. That is the comeliest spot on Earth.

But even the beautiful places on Earth have bumps and ruts. Such a bump came there for Billy Kretschmer.

A few years later, son Ezra was playing on the Leavenworth Rookie team, one of his first seasons of baseball. The Rookies played on the softball field. The kids were nine, ten, and eleven. Chuck Zinniel and Bill Helget coached, and I helped out.

Billy Kretschmer is Bart and Katherine’s kid. The Kretschmers farm south of me. One night, the boys were playing Godahl, and Billy’s folks had a meeting to go to. Bart called and asked if I could take Billy. No problem, just a little bit of gravel road. Ezra and I always went early for practice and Pam came up later.

At this level, the older kids play the infield and the younger kids play outfield. Ezra and Billy were only ten, and played in the five-man outfield. There are five outfielders to give more kids a chance to play. And to reduce the chaos when a ball gets hit out there.

Baseball is passed in the genes around here, and even little kids play pretty good ball. We had a sharp game with Godahl that night. Mike Zinniel was our pitcher, and he had the desirable quality of throwing lots of strikes, a blessing for the fans. Godahl had some big kids, though, and they hit some in between our outfield quintet. It came to the bottom of the seventh and Leavenworth was behind 8 to 4.

Godahl sent in their biggest kid to pitch. He threw hard, but didn’t much know where it was going. Walks and strike outs alternated till there were two outs and bases loaded. Andy Steffl, a strapping farm kid, hit the first ball of the inning hard down the right field line. By the time it got chased it down, Andy was on second and the score was 8 to 7. Andy was the last of our eleven-year olds; it was up to our ten-year olds to keep us alive. Brandon Helget did just that, hitting one up the middle for a single. Andy moved to third.

This was getting gosh-darned exciting; everyone was standing. Ezra was up next. Four pitches, none near the strike zone, and he was on first. Bases were loaded. It was Billy Kretschmer’s turn. The coaches were hoping Billy would watch some pitches, maybe all of them.

But that’s not Billy. He’s an excitable kid, and he loves to swing the bat. He chased the first two up by his eyes for two strikes. Then two bounced in the dirt. The next pitch was way up in the air. Everybody was thinking ball three, everybody but Billy. He took a hatchet swing at the missile above his head. Strike three, game over.

Billy stood there a couple seconds. Then his head slumped so far that his helmet fell off. When he finally looked up, I could see his eyes were moist. Chuck and Bill went out and had their arms around him, a rough moment for a ten-year old.

After the game, comes a busy time. There’s parents to talk to, the opposing coaches, gathering equipment, raking the field. The players get a free pop, and I looked over once to see Brandon and Ezra sitting next to Billy on the grass, backs against the chain link fence. That was good, I thought.

Finally, it was just Whitey Helget and me by the concession stand. Pam had taken Ezra home. I remembered that I had to give Billy a ride, but there was no one around. Then I saw him out on the old playground past center field. He was sitting in a swing, swaying a bit.

Whitey was closing up, so I took my beer and walked out around the right field fence. “Billy, I have to take you home now.”

Softly, I heard, “I ain’t going home.”

I started walking over, and he scooted up on top of the jungle gym. “I think your parents would miss you.”

With more force, he replied, “I’m just gonna sit here, and maybe the coyotes will come and get me and that’ll be the end of that.” Then he let himself hang upside down by his knees. “I struck out with the bases loaded. I don’t never wanna see anyone again.” I reminded him that he had a nice hit last week at Stark, and he said, “Yeah, but that didn’t feel as good as this feels bad.”

Right then, the bells started their 9:30 duty. We let them finish. Then Billy said as he pulled himself upright, “Why would God make a dumb game that I have to strike out in?” Remembering back to a couple strikeouts of my own, I thought it was a fair question. I began to wonder whether it had something to do with the fall and original sin, but I left that in my head. Before I could respond, Billy said, “This is the worst day of my life!”

I thought about telling him that there would be worse days to come. But he’ll find that out, won’t he? I looked at him and could see now that he was kidding, at least a little. The strikeout was a half hour in the past, time for a ten-year old to start moving on. “Billy, I don’t think the coyotes want a skinny kid like you anyway. What do you say, we pick up Ezra and go get a Dairy Queen?”

“A Dairy Queen? Yeah, that’d be good.” Sometimes a comely place with bells isn’t enough; you still need a Dairy Queen.

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