Happiness, happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.
As I looked around the perimeter of The Sponge, Clinton High School’s beloved field of dreams and antiquity, that’s what struck me.
Lots of smiling faces / Little children running around / Everybody’s somebody in this old Hill Country town. — Viva Luckenbach! Jerry Jeff Walker.
When I attended the local high school, The Sponge was just the field. The ball field, maybe. Next year a new one will open at the high school, across the ring road, and it is rumored to be outfitted with a grass infield and bullpens that are actually a part of the design and not carved out of the pine trees behind right field. The old Clinton High School is now the new Clinton Middle School, and athletic facilities are slowly migrating into the 21st Century.
Maybe they’ll call it the Baseball Complex, which is what Presbyterian College calls its field, even though there’s nothing complex about it. It’s complicated to find a place to see the whole field, but not complex.
Anyway, The Sponge, so named, I’ve been told, because its hard, sandy, clay infield drains well after thunderstorms, is going out in style. The Red Devils (22-1) won their 19th game in a row Monday night, 3-0 over Eastside (17-8), one of Greenville’s almost innumerable suburban schools. Technically, the Eagles are from Taylors, which is named after Andy, Opie and Aunt Bea, or that’s what I prefer to believe.
The Red Devils are a club that pitches well, bunts with a maniacal persistence, hits towering drives occasionally when its batters swing away, and seems to play better as pressure increases. They possess a never-say-die mentality that occasionally inspires a game in which they give up six runs in the top of the first and wind up winning, 10-6.
At some point in almost every interview I conduct with head coach Sean McCarthy, he says, “They’re a special bunch.” Far be it from me to quibble.
On Monday night, Clinton had 19 at-bats. Eastside had 26. In part, this was because the Eagles batted once more. In part, it was because the Red Devils sacrifice-bunted four times and tried five. Once this year, they executed three squeeze plays in a single game and two in a single inning.
In two playoff games so far, Clinton pitching hasn’t allowed a run, and Clinton fielding plays a considerable role in the stinginess. Tristan Smaltz and Davis Cunningham have combined for 21 strikeouts in 12 innings. Smaltz is small and lefthanded. Cunningham is a tall righty. Aaron Copeland chipped in two thirds of an inning to nail down a 2-0 victory over Daniel. Cunningham went the distance in the 3-0 decision over Easley.
It’s such a pleasant crowd. Until this year, Clinton hadn’t won its region in 22 years. Sure, the fans are loud and feisty, their spirits kept high by public-address announcer and Voice of the Red Devils Buddy Bridges, but mostly, they are delighted. Bridges was back last night, having missed the Daniel game because his son was getting married, and I half-expected the fans to give him a lemon pound cake or something.
McCarthy is nervous and superstitious before games, in marked contrast to his players, who are as playful as baseball players are wont to be, and one of the reasons he seemed panicky before the Daniel game was that he didn’t get a chance to hand the lineup card personally to Bridges. I lean more toward the players than the coach while wandering around the field taking pictures, and this makes McCarthy uneasy, and it makes me chuckle, which makes him even more uneasy.
Afterwards, he has recently succumbed to the coach’s habit of answering every question with the same answer, and I don’t mind because his team has given me more than any writer can ask, that being a good story to right night after night. Whatever he asks his players to do, they do, and McCarthy deserves lots of credit for teaching them how by instilling in them guts and a penchant for glory.
On Friday, they can nail down their district, which is a unit I didn’t know existed until I started following these proceedings closely by word and presence.
Two teams, Daniel and A.C. Flora, will face off to determine which gets to take on the Red Devils on Friday night. I’d like to see the big dogs hunt a little more at the plate, but I ought not complain because what a writer likes is a good story, and these Red Devil baseball games write themselves.
My book of short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, is called Longer Songs, and you can buy it here.
The Audacity of Dope is a tale about a pot-smoking singer-songwriter who becomes a reluctant national hero. He prevents someone from blowing up the plane he’s on, and both hilarity and drama ensue. My first novel is an irreverent, fun read.
The Intangibles is my most personal. Set mostly in 1968, it draws on memories from my childhood and teen-aged years. It’s a story of civil rights, bigotry, and high school football.
Crazy of Natural Causes has a main character who is an outrageous football coach at the beginning, loses everything and has to start over. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a yarn about a corrupt, ambitious politician who wants to be governor and will do anything to achieve it. It has a parallel story of a good cop who’s trying to stop the monster and another of kids gone wild.
To peruse all my books, including most of the non-fiction ones from my NASCAR years, click here.