The plan was perfect, or so I thought.
I was to be at Frank Huston Field at 10 a.m. two Saturdays ago where I would see if I could hit a pitch thrown by the ace of the Ottumwa softball team’s pitching staff, Mandi Moore.
The adrenaline was pumping, a mixture of nervousness and excitement; as I drove to Huston Field with Jimmy Buffett music playing on my CD player.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could hit Moore or not. I mean, I was pretty good at hitting a baseball once upon a time. But hitting a softball is a whole ‘nother beast.
While in college, I played some intramural softball at Kansas State University where my hitting could accurately be described as average. And since it was slow pitch, that experience would probably do me no good, anyway.
I got to the field and Moore arrived shortly after. And she brought along some company: Her parents, Doyle and Deb Moore; and fellow Bulldog teammate Nicole Peyton. Peyton would catch Moore as she warmed up for our big showdown.
I talked to Moore’s parents while watching her warm up. POP! The ball snapped into Peyton’s glove. There was no doubt Moore could really hum it when she wanted to. POP! Another fastball. Another sound communicating what happens when ball meets glove. I began to worry that hitting Moore’s pitches would be harder than I had previously thought. But this was my idea, so I was going to make the best of it.
I wandered into the dugout and put my watch, phone and keys a place where I would remember to look after I was done hitting. While I was putting my valuables on a concrete ledge in the dugout, I heard a voice directing a question at me.
It was Bulldog coach Frank Huston inquiring as to whether I thought this (trying to hit Moore’s pitches) was really a good idea. Judging by his tone, it didn’t sound like the legendary Bulldog coach thought it was such a great idea.
Sensing my plan might be about to unravel, I gave a non-answer tinged with a bit of humor, which I hoped would add a some levity to the situation.
“The jury’s still out on that one,” I said.
My attempt at humor did nothing to ameliorate Huston’s concerns. The veteran coach was worried his No. 1 pitcher might hit me with a pitch — her fastball is over 60 mph — or, that I might hit her if I actually managed to make contact with the ball. The former sounded more likely than the latter.
I didn’t feel it would be appropriate for me to press Huston on the issue, so I stood around trying to look mildly intelligent while Huston and Doyle had a pow-wow about whether my plan should be allowed to proceed or not. To make a long story short, the plan was nixed. Oh well, as a wise man once said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
I couldn’t blame Huston for his stance — he was just trying to protect his pitcher, and perhaps my boyish good looks. And I have a lot of respect for the veteran coach, so I resisted an impulse to try and change his mind. With my plan lying in ruins, Mandi, Doyle and I came up with a backup plan. Instead of trying to hit against Moore, I would catch her instead.
Unfortunately, this idea also ran into problems because the only catcher’s mitt available was for left handers. Of course, it took Doyle, Mandi (or maybe it was Deb) to point this out to me. I was hopelessly trying to jam the mitt on my hand before they enlightened me about the futility of my quest.
So I ended up standing with Doyle near Peyton as she caught Moore’s pitches. He sped me up on the different kinds of pitches his daughter throws.
Moore’s fastball looked even faster close-up than it does from the broadcast booth I sit at during games. She threw an array of pitches — curves, change-ups, sliders, fastballs and some other ones that refused to stick in my memory.
“This season I’m really liking the curve because it’s working so well for me,” Moore said.
Later, Moore told me she probably started pitching around the age of five.
“I wanted to be like my cousin Ali Downing,” she said.
Downing started pitching for the Ottumwa softball team as an eighth-grader and eventually moved on to play at Indian Hills Community College and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“You get a chance to control the game yourself,” Moore said when asked what she liked about pitching. “I’ve always kind of been a person who likes [having] pressure on you. I just try to be a leader; it’s the way I’ve always been.”
She proved this with her gritty performance in game one of the Bulldogs sweep of then top-ranked Des Moines East earlier this season.
It wasn’t Moore’s most dominating performance. The number of strikeouts she recorded wasn’t as high as usual. The batters weren’t so far behind her pitches that they were swinging after the ball was in Beth Overturf’s glove; as has been the case more than a few times this season. There were a lot of long at-bats. A lot of deep counts. But when it came time to get an out, Moore was clutch.
In a game where the top pitcher in Class 5A, the Scarlets’ Riley Fisher, gave up three hits in one inning, Moore only allowed five hits in the whole game. Sure, if she had not been injured at the start of the second inning, Fisher might have recovered and gone on to dominate the rest of the game. I seriously doubt it, but it’s within the realm of possibility. This still doesn’t take away from the fact that Moore — and Brittni Vogt — proved she can pitch at as high a level as anyone in Iowa.
Moore’s second start against Des Moines East this week didn’t go as well, but that doesn’t take away from what has been a solid season on the mound.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I would have been able to take a few cuts at that fastball. Maybe it’s best that I didn’t find out.
Got a sports challenge for Courier sports writer Andy Heintz? He can be reached at email@example.com.
The plan was perfect, or so I thought.
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