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The great 1968 play at the plate

Passed by a Spokane ball field and one of the kids there reminded me of my junior high friend, Ron Catallo.

Ron was bright and funny. He was one of Michigan's most animated second-guessers of Detroit Tigers manager Mayo Smith. And as boys that age have been known to do, he was willing to privately express his admiration for certain slightly older girls in startlingly frank terms. That never failed to be entertaining.

Though Ron was not a great athlete, he was friends with quite a few of the jocks at our school. Occasionally he would get kidded about walking around with the thickest wallet on the Upper Peninsula. It created a genuine back-pocket bulge. I don't remember how he defended this practice. I just know he was not concerned about presenting a sleek butt silhouette.

My favorite memory of him is from a pick-up baseball game. I don't know if we had actually assembled 18 players. But if we didn't have two full teams, it was close. There were no adults involved.

Ron managed to get on base. And though I cannot recall exactly the subsequent sequence of events, I have a clear image of him, a couple of batters later, rounding third and heading for home.

He was not a fast runner, so it's not my imagination that makes it seem as if that happened in slow motion.

Anyway, the kid in the outfield who picked up the ball made one hell of a throw. It's odd that I cannot remember who that was, because he had a serious arm.

As Ron chugged toward home, teammates yelled “Slide!” (He didn't.)

Others were jumping and waving their arms.

Would he make it? Would the throw get there first?

It seemed as if my friend and the baseball were going to arrive at home plate at the same time. And in a sense, they did.

The ball hit Ron square in the wallet and fell harmlessly to the ground.

Safe. Run scored.

All of us lost it. And Ron, the last to realize what had happened, eventually smiled like I'd never seen him smile.

They say sports for kids are supposed to be fun. Well, I'm here to tell you that once upon a time, they could be.


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Features writer Paul Turner is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review in the Features department. He writes "The Slice" column, which appears six times a week and produces general features stories for the Today section.

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