In the early 1980’s, I had the opportunity to play softball with some of my co-workers, if only for one game however, a game for which they had failed to recruit enough of their regular players. The game took place at an exclusive ball field where the opposing team always had the home team advantage: The Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Ky. They were rumored to be undefeated.
We assembled our group of fresh fish at one of the razor wire entry gates leading to the ballfield located within the confines of the “Castle on the Cumberland”. We passed through this gate as it closed up behind us. A second gate would find us walking down the first base line toward home plate. Freedom was a long way off from here.
A few minutes later, a massive steel door along a tall stone wall screeched open and the inmates began to trickle out and gather in small groups around the field. A half dozen sunbaked, wild eyed ball slingers took the infield and began to warm up. Slow pitch softball has nothing to do with base to base hurling. The inmates were putting on a show, a very high speed show.
Other inmates talked with us as we waited for the game to start.
“You see dat infield, boy?” One of them asked. “If yo ball don’t get out dat infield, you out! Don’t you worry ‘bout fust base. You ain’t gone make it.”
“An all dem boys is murderers.” He pointed to the infield. “Dat home plate umpire…he a murderer, too.”
I could see why some of our regular players were unavailable.
Anyway, win or lose, playing the game was now the only way out of here.
Our first at bat was uneventful, other than confirming the captive Prophets’ predictions. “What I tell you, boy?” Laughing as he called the play-by-play from behind the dugout.
Our fielding wasn’t much better, giving up several runs before the inning was over.
Tommy, one of our better players, stepped into the batter’s box with all of the confidence of a big hitter, having, on occasion, pointed to an out-of-park location in a prophecy of his own making.
He dispatched the second pitch high over the right field fence, bouncing off the roof of one of the perimeter buildings.
“Double!” The empire bellowed.
One of the little known rules of this particular field was that any hit striking the roof of the building beyond right field was counted as a double.
Tommy was dismayed but stopped at second base. He later dropped one over the fence to left field for a home run.
Probably the smallest, yet best all-around athletes on our team was a fellow nicknamed “Wiener”, who somehow managed to advance to third and was threatening to steal home. A fly ball gave him the green light as he dove across the plate, taking out the legs of the catcher who was none too happy about it. The Umpire stepped up to discourage any discussion that the catcher might have as Weiner trotted to the dugout. He was pronounced “out” but I think he was proud just the same.
One of our guys had worn a pair of loud, plaid “Bermuda” shorts; not a good choice, we thought, considering where we were. Somebody called him by name but what the inmates heard was a little bit different.
“Lisa! Lisa!” They heckled. He must have felt like the day would never end.
But eventually, the game came to a close, having let the inmates eek out a win of about 20 something to three. They were really good sports about it though and invited us back anytime, as they really had nothing better to do.
We knew that.
Slowly the inmates made their way back up to the big steel door where, when the last man passed through, the door slammed shut, echoing off the nearby hill. It was an imposing sound followed by an eerie silence.
We just couldn’t get through those gates quick enough. We lost the game but having come away from there, we felt like winners.