Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
We returned to Gettysburg for our buddy Bill’s Old Time Base Ball Tournament, which is played under 1864 rules by guys in uniforms that are period-correct.
The Civil War uniforms Capt. Gary and 1Sgt. Goldy wear are period-correct, too.
Someone asked what team we were with.
“Yankees,” I told her.
The brand of ball these men (and one woman) play reminds me of slow-pitch softball. Last year, when we saw what was going on, Gary and I wanted to play.
This year, one team offered us the chance. We could field a position and go up to hit, with someone designated to run for us if we actually made contact with the ball.
Neither of us could see anything but an ambulance ride coming out of that. For one thing, the soles on our footgear are slick enough that simply walking on grass poses a challenge. Also, one good cut with a bat was apt to tear muscles we forgot we had.
So we thanked them and regretfully refused the honor.
They do let old guys play, including a friend of ours who was about to turn 60. He pitches and reminds me of Captain Keith on TV’s “Deadliest Catch.”
When he got on with a single, I thought, “Now, you old bugger, you got to run the bases.” He later told us he was hoping someone would catch it and throw him out.
On the next play, he ran to second base and slid way too soon. These fields are all grass, and they stop you a lot faster than the dirt one finds even on softball and little league infields.
He took a nosedive into the ground and stopped several feet short of the bag, then belly-flopped and crawled the rest of the way.
I chuckled and reflected, “There, but for the grace of God ... .”
Having been put out quite handily, he came over to talk to us.
I asked if he ever saw that footage of former Baltimore Orioles’ catcher Rick Dempsey taking off his spikes and doing a Babe Ruth home-run trot around the infield on the tarp during a rain delay, slipping and sliding into each base and splashing water like a frolicking humpback whale.
It was one of baseball’s great moments, and worth your time to look for it on the Internet.
He remembered it, and I told him that what he just did reminded me of it.
“I’m reeeaaallly glad you guys were here to see me do that,” he frowned.
Not half as glad as we are, we said.
Two weeks was a fast turnaround from our Fourth-of-July trip to Gettysburg, but we remembered how much fun this tournament is (it’s the third weekend of each July), and we wanted to come back. But we also had to come back, and here’s why.
Bill, who sponsors the tournament and owns Gettysburg Eddie’s (our favorite bar and restaurant), has become family with us. So have some of his employees. They greet us with hugs when we come in for the first time in a while, and when we’re going away again.
When they get a break, they sit with us for a few minutes. After they get off work, they hang out with us until the place closes.
Some of them tell us WE are family.
No sooner than we got home from our previous trip, we heard that one of our Eddie’s family tried to cross the railroad tracks at the worst possible time. One foot was gone, he was on a respirator in an induced coma, and they didn’t know what else was wrong.
Andy is one of the cooks, and a fine one. He gives us extra banana peppers with our sandwiches.
Bill was now down three cooks because a second cook (Bobby) was out having a pacemaker put in, and a third (Brian) had just moved to another state with his girlfriend (Cassie), who had been one of Bill’s hostesses.
Nobody is sure how it happened, but at last report, Andy was able to sit up and blow his nose. (The next time I see him, I am going to tell him, “Son, you look like you been hit by a train.” I guarantee you he will laugh.)
Bill was beside himself because he couldn’t get in to see Andy. Times like this, nobody but immediate family is allowed.
“He’s my best friend,” Bill told us.
When Andy woke up, he asked where Bill was and said he wanted to see him. The day we left Gettysburg, Bill was on his way to take care of that.
Bill put a gallon jug behind the bar with a sign asking for donations to help defray Andy’s medical expenses, then took it with him to put on the table under a tent where he was selling hats, T-shirts and pennants at the tournament.
A young woman walked up and told us her three daughters had made some things to sell — bracelets and necklaces with beads and tiny baseballs, and picture frames with baseballs painted on them.
She said they would like to put them on Bill’s table and be sold for whatever people wanted to pay, with the money to go into Andy’s donation jar.
It was their idea, she said, and theirs alone.
Gary and I guessed they were about 6, 7 and 8, cute and adorable, everything little girls should be — alternating between outbursts of team giggling and periods of solemn, business-like whispering ... scheming at things only they would understand.
They wore Gettysburg Eddie’s ball caps that were several sizes too big, with the bills pointing backward.
They sat with us a while, then went out looking for business.
Bill told us, “Those little girls filled that jar.” (There may have been as many tens and twenties as there were ones and fives.)
They filled our hearts, too, and they’re not the first little kids to do that. The greatest memories Gary and I bring home usually involve youngsters.
Bobby is a bit sore, but well enough to come in and have a glass of wine. He and Bill sat and talked for a while, and we could tell it did both of them a world of good.
Brian and Cassie heard about Andy and came back to help out. We weren’t the least bit surprised to see them.
“He’s family,” Brian said, “and so are you guys.” Will they stay? We don’t know.
Those two had to come back for the same reason Gary and I did — Goldy’s Rule 111: There are times when the best thing you can say to someone else is, “You are not alone. I am here with you.”
Anybody who thinks there’s no hope for this country and the rest of the human race ought to come with the captain and me, some time.
There’s plenty of hope. We’ll show it to them.