By Milovan Pompa*
The game had no meaning. We were playing Santa Clara University. But we’d already lost two of a crucial three-game series to them. Had we won those games, we’d have gone to the playoffs by being co-champs in one-half of the season. We still had to play the third game, but we were done.
I got the start that Friday against Santa Clara University and on the drive to our field I was thinking of something to tell the team so we’d at least show up and not get slaughtered. The team wanted to get the game over with quick cause there was beer to drink.
I walked into the coach’s office. My god-mother had called me, I told him. Fresno State’s number one pitcher was academically ineligible and the team was going to forfeit all their games in the second half. We, the San Jose State Spartans, were back in it. The college season is has two halves, with a champion of each half. We could be Champs of the first half of the season now, and we’d be in the playoffs if we beat Santa Clara — as both of us had tied for second place in the first half of the season.
“One sec, I’ll get Bennett (the Fresno state coach) on the phone,” my coach, Gene Menges, said.
My heart dropped.
“Damn, no answer! Are you sure about this?”
“I just talked to her. She was so excited to know we could be going to the playoffs.”
I told the coaches that she was a Fresno State Booster (she wasn’t) and had come to see me pitch when I beat them that year (she didn’t).
“We got to get to the field and tell the team,” he said.
Santa Clara was one of our hated rivals and this year was one of the worst for rag-talk between the teams.
The coach announced to the team what I had told then. They couldn’t believe it, nor could some of the fans and parents.
With new energy, to the mound I went.
Santa Clara was tough that year. They had a good team: Big Jim Sunberg from Texas and Donny Davenport, whose dad was a coach with the San Francisco Giants and a supporting cast of tough players.
I came from Los Angeles two years before with the attitude of teaching the Bay Area kids a thing or two about baseball. So when Santa Clara started to rag-talk me while I was pitching, they were only cutting their own throats.
It was a close game. I had a one-hit shutout for seven innings. Then someone on their team said something about my grandmother. When I heard that, BAM! High and tight right on the outer bicep of one of their best players. The benches cleared but calm was restored when the umpire told everyone that he would call the game unless we got back in the dugouts.
They tied the game in the 8th inning on an unearned run. In the bottom of the 8th inning we scored again and took the lead, 2-1.
In the ninth, I got the first out but the second hitter singled and stole second base. One of their best hitters was up. He had hit me hard earlier.
The count was two and two. It had been a little windy that night, though not anything to notice. I start to deliver my pitch. The wind picked up and a dust-devil funnel cloud about two feet tall suddenly spun right on home plate.
I was releasing the ball and the batter, eyes squinting, threw his hand up and jumped out of the batter’s box.
“Time out! Time out!”
The umpire didn’t move as my pitch sailed over the plate.
The stadium exploded. The other team was yelling and screaming, jumping up and down, running onto the field. Their coach raced to the umpire.
“He couldn’t have hit that pitch!”
The batter was on fire.
“I called time out ! I couldn’t see!”
The umpire looked at everyone and walked out to the infield, raised his hands and held his mask over his head. The crowd quieted.
“It was an Act of God. He’s out!”
Santa Clara exploded again. The ump had none of it.
I got the next hitter to fly out for the third out and when the catch was made I walked over to the foul line by their dugout, peered in and pointed my finger at them.
“I don’t hear anything about my mom now.”
They promised to beat me down when they got me alone.
I walked over to my dugout hearing their coach telling them to sit down and be quiet, that I had beaten them fair and square.
That night the game was on Spartan radio, KSJS. As I was putting my gear in my bag, the announcer asked me if I’d do an interview.
I went up to the announcers booth atop the stadium behind home plate. I gave the play-by-play of the last inning. After about ten minutes the interview ended.
By then, the stadium was empty. In the dugout, I found my gear bag and stuff lying on the floor.
“Thanks, guys!” I yelled to a ghostly empty dugout.
I grabbed my stuff and came out of the dugout and back through the field access gate to leave the stadium. As I exited the field, the entire Santa Clara team began filing out from under the stadium to the visitor parking lot. I stopped between the field and the service gate and slowly took a step back.
There I was. Just me and them, face to face.
“Well, well, well, lookie here? All by yourself, Two-Nine?” (My number)” said their big catcher, Jim Sunberg.
“You’re dead, you punk ass!” yelled another player.
By this time the entire team had come out from under the stadium. I was standing at the field access gate, a double-gate, but only one side was swung open. Realizing I was alone, they started to come around me. But the gate didn’t allow all of them them to get in at one time.
I told them that I didn’t give a shit who they were and that there was no way in hell that I was going to allow candy-ass boys to come into my stadium and talk shit about my mom and grandmother.
They started to come at me.
“Oh, what a fair fight?! You can’t beat me on the field so ALL OF YOU have to come at me? Really? You must think I’m as stupid as you look. Want to make it fair? Line up!”
They all looked at each other and then at me.
“Are you serious?” said one.
“Get in line! I’ll kick your asses one by one here, too!”
So they got in line. Sunberg started to pull a bat out of his bag. I told him that he’d better not miss cause I was going to wrap the bat around his arm and break it in three places.
I reached into my bag and put my cleat knife in my glove. As they yelled at him to kill me and as he started to take his first step towards me, the Santa Clara coaches and the umpires came walking out of the tunnel.
“What the hell!” yelled their head coach, who walked over, looking at his catcher and his team in line.
He looked at me.
“Get in line, coach!” I said. “I’ll kick your ass after I kick this big asshole’s first!”
He saw his team has formed a single-file line. He turned to me.
“What the hell did you say?”
“I said, `Get in line, coach, and after I break this guy’s arm, I’ll kick your ass next!”
He slowly looked at his players lined up then at his catcher holding a bat.
“Yeah coach, can you believe it?” said one player. “He told us to make the fight fair to line-up and he’d kick all our asses one-by-one!”
The coach looked at me. I was in my fighting stance.
“Give me that bat and go get in line,” he said to the catcher.
“Relax, son,” he said to me.
His team began to protest. He cut them off.
“So all of you come out of the tunnel and see him by himself. You attempt to fight him and he tells you all to line-up to make it fair and you all do it?”
Again, one players chirped, “Yeah, coach. Can you believe it?”
The coach looked at me and then at his team.
“I think that if I encountered ONE MAN who told TWENTY-FIVE men to get in line to get their asses kicked that I think I’d run! ARE YOU ALL THAT STUPID? He beat you on the field and thank God I got here in time to prevent him from beating you physically!
He looked at me.
“Son, what’s your name?” He stuck his hand out to shake hands. I didn’t.
“Son,“ he said, “you pitched a helluva game. I wish I had nine players like you.”
He looked at his team.
“Stand aside and let this man walk by. If I hear one word about him while he’s walking by or when we get to the van, none of you will play tomorrow. I might even bring up the JV instead.”
I headed to the dorms. When I got there everyone was showered and shaved and drinking beer celebrating our win without me.
“Where you been?”
“Shit,” I said, and told them what happened.
They all looked at each other, then at me, then burst into laughter.
“It’s true.” I said
We partied most of the night and I wondered what happened to Santa Clara the next day. But that’s a whole nuther story.