The Dill Brothers
They were brothers of sizeable girth, well beyond the “husky” label pants companies used at the time … to be polite I suppose. But both Bob … who was a year ahead of me in school … and his brother Tom … my age … were very personable, gracious boys. Like me, they weren’t very good at team sports … although they did have more success at football. I mean, it took some time just to run around each of them, let alone try to block or knock them down.
Tom was big. Bob was bigger. And one summer in the early 1960s… at around age 12 or 13 … we played together on a baseball team. In our small hometown of Olmsted Falls there was no official Little League. Instead, wise men (at least by their own standards) came up with the concept of Summer League. No one got cut. Every boy had to play 2 innings in the field and bat at least once. I suppose all decided in the name of fairness … it might have been kinder to baseball challenged boys like me to cut us. My first summer I went without a single hit … with errors galore … and absorbed all the shame that came with that lack of output.
Why I tried a second summer is beyond me. But I did. And I was given the number 13 on a team called the Mets. We wore black shirts and caps. At the time … considering that the major league Mets were just starting out and totally sucked … this seemed all the more gloomy. Bob and Tom Dill were on that team. I enjoyed their company on the bench … which is where the three of us spent most of the game. And when we played, usually the coach stuck us out in right field and everyone prayed no one hit a ball there.
As terrifying as batting was, a lot of the pitchers at this age were wild. So a lousy batter like me could always hope to get hit by a pitch … or if you struck out and the catcher missed the ball … make it to first base before he could retrieve the ball and throw it to the first baseman. These were the only two ways I got on base the entire first year I participated. And I’m betting it was true for the Brothers Dill as well.
The Mets did win a game or three … although not because of anything I did. Still, the summer moved along and the Mets were not the most exciting team to watch. Our parents came when they could despite a lackluster experience.
I do however remember a VERY memorable display late in our season … an inning that got our few fans on their feet screaming with joy.
Around the fifth inning (I believe we only played 7 per game), the Dill brothers and I were all in the game. It being one of the final contests of the season, and the fact we didn’t have close to a winning record must have made this possible. The Mets were up to bat. Leading off was Bob, followed by Tom and then me. This had never before transpired and I figured our half an inning would be a very short one. But Bob and Tom apparently secretly took things into their own hands. And because of their largeness, decided to use it to their advantage.
Bob took a couple of pitches … swung at one … and finally got hit … HARD in the shoulder. He slowly sauntered to first base … savoring the moment … where he proceeded to dance on and off the bag.
The opposing team smirked at the sight.
Tom stepped in and swung a time or two … took a couple called balls … and kind of leaned into a pitch which hit him square in the back. “Take your base”, yelled the amused umpire.
I stood there with the bat on my shoulder … a “Clete Boyer” model if I remember correctly … thinking … “Even if I get a HIT these guys can’t run fast enough to be SAFE anywhere!”
Yet, to everyone’s amazement both Bob (on second) and his slightly smaller brother Tom (on first) were acting as if they might STEAL! They were both DANCING around … a few feet off base and TAUNTING the pitcher! I walked to the plate and looked back at the catcher. He appeared to be confused, amused … and terrified at the same time.
“Hey pitcher! Hey HEY pitcher! PITCH!!” was the Brothers Dill dance tune.
The opposing team smirked even more,
So I figured it these guys could be this balls to the wall BOLD late in the season, so could I. I decided to take the bat off my shoulder and actually try to HIT the ball!
I didn’t do this often.
Even with only one good eye, the first pitched seemed to be coming in wide of the plate. And it did.
But the amazing thing wasn’t that I saw a pitch correctly with just one functioning eyeball. What was astounding was that as soon as the pitcher went into his windup Bob AND Tom Dill took off in a DOUBLE STEAL! Okay … it wasn’t so much “took off” … more like watching offensive linemen in the NFL lumber in slow motion.
With arms pumping and legs lumbering, the Dill brothers’ determination was matched only by their profuse sweating in the humid August evening. Our few fans and family were standing, waving their arms frantically, screaming as loudly as possible. Fans for the other team dropped their jaws.
But no one’s jaw was open wider than the catcher standing behind me, holding the ball with a look of disbelief on his face. And the Dills were still only about 1/3 of the way to their respective bases of destination when the catcher hurled the ball as HARD as he could.
It sailed over the second baseman’s leaping glove and rolled into centerfield. The kid out there was in shock like everybody else. So by the time he got the ball back to the infield Bob and Tom were safely occupying second and third bases respectively.
I tried to take my time getting back into the batter’s box because the two Dills were bent over, hands on their knees, trying desperately to catch their breath.
My only strategy was to try my best to get the bat on the ball … somehow. So I took a couple pitches, striving to look confident in some way. I swung and fouled off a pitch.
I wanted more than that.
When Bob and Tom were close to being upright again, I strode into the box and gripped the Clete Boyer with all the strength I had. I won’t say I closed my eyes and swung … but I certainly had no idea where the ball was when I did. And miraculously I felt my swing hit the ball, heard the crack of the bat, and witnessed a genuine line drive soar between the first and second basemen.
As I ran as hard as I could towards first I saw the ball roll through the legs of the right fielder … obviously the other team’s weakest link as well. Meanwhile Bob and Tom were thundering the base paths. I rounded second just as the fielder reached the ball. So I decided to head to third. Problem was, halfway there I was right on Tom Dill’s heels! I couldn’t PASS him … that’s an out. So I returned to second base. Bob had already scored. I saw him hanging on the backstop’s chicken wire out of breath, panting like there was no tomorrow. Tom was still only halfway to home plate when the second baseman heaved the ball towards the catcher.
And the poor catcher was doing what he should be … trying to block the plate from the runner. But the look of terror on his face made it clear he did NOT want to collide with this oncoming locomotive of a boy, charging towards him with a sinister wildness in his eyes. Tom rolled towards the catcher seemingly as if possessed by demons. The catcher nervously moved a little. The ball arrived … hit his catcher’s mitt and dribbled to the backstop. And the second Dill brother scored standing up as our fans and family went wild, cheering with all they had.
In the chaos that ensued I snuck myself to third base. I watched as the rest of the Mets pounded the Dill brothers on their backs in congratulation, while they hung spent, sweating profusely and gasping for air from the backstop. Our fans were frantic!!!
And I thought giddily to myself, “My first TRIPLE!!!”
Yeah … I know … I know. It really was technically NOT a triple. But I’ll take it. It’s my only one … ever.
I have no recollection which team won the game that steamy August evening, and I don’t care. I doubt Bob and Tom Dill ever cared either. And in my heart I know my “triple” was just dumb luck. But the Dill brothers’ determination … their daredevil double steal … seeing them score and watching our teammates’ joy as the brothers hung spent and happy on the diamond’s backstop … well … that’s a baseball memory for the ages.
Originally published in Naked Sunfish: Caviar.