Baseball is an American institution, and right here in Cordova, Alaska, USA, one of the first sights newcomers pass when approaching the heart of our city is nothing other than a baseball diamond.
Often, we overlook the origins of names for our favorite sports. For example, Naismith’s basketball really began with tossing a ball in a peach basket.
What we call football derives its name from kicking the ball with a foot, which in fact really doesn’t happen very often in the merry mayhem of the American version of that sport. Worldwide, football means a much purer form of the endeavor, called soccer, which almost entirely evolves on skill of foot. Very little hand touching of the ball is allowed.
Then there is baseball. America’s version of the sport, which harkens back to 1839 and Abner Doubleday, is based on the concept of a race to the bases after batting a ball.
Ironically, the “base” at which it starts, and ends is not even called a base. It is home plate. And, of course, a highlight of the sport is a “home run,” in which a batter knocks the ball out of the park, and then has the freedom to “run” from first, to second, to third, and then back home.
This occurs on what is called a diamond, but in fact is a square of sides 90 feet, with the bases at its corners.
Of baseball, renowned sportswriter Red Smith penned: “Ninety feet between bases is the nearest thing to perfection that man has yet achieved.”
Which is true, when you consider the number of remarkably close plays, especially at first base, that can now be examined in infinite detail through instant replay.
Given how world records have tumbled in sprint races since the game was created 22 years before the start of the Civil War, it is amazing that Doubleday’s distance is still so close to perfection. When Ty Cobb was stealing an amazing 892 bases in a Hall of Fame career that ran from 1905 to 1928, the world record in the 100-meter in that last year was 10.6 second. Usain Bolt holds the current record at 9.58 seconds. Athletes are much faster, but 90 feet is still magic.
Although the basic concept of baseball seems simple, its execution can be quite complex. Just ask any 4- to 7-year-old T-baller, who after hitting the ball, has to figure out which direction to run, and not only that, when to stop and start. Obviously, first base is first on the list, but where is first base? It must seem miles away when you’re three feet tall, even though the bases are only 60 feet apart on Little League diamonds. More than a few base runners have been seen vanishing through mud puddles off toward right field, little legs still churning.
The drama mounts if you round third and then have to head home, where often a catcher awaits with a ball to “tag” you out. The very concept of “out” can be terrifying at that age. More than one tearful youngster has misinterpreted “out” to mean being banished to the bench and not being allowed to play anymore.
After all, “time out” is a standard modern era child-rearing disciplinary technique, right?
Of course, all that is simplified if the batter hits a home run, which in fact results in a leisurely trot around the bases. While that is unlikely in T-ball, it may soon happen at the upper levels of Cordova’s Little League program, which includes Minors at ages 7-10, and Majors ages 11-12.
Why? Because Cordova’s Little League now has an official outfield fence, at 200 feet from home plate (with the exception of the left field corner, which is 195 feet down the line, due to the nearby highway).
Dave Reggiani, who lead the revitalization of a long dormant Little League program beginning back in 2004 and has served as League President for the 14 years, spearheaded the latest improvement.
Over the past two weeks, outfield fencing purchased by the Little League program has been installed, thanks to labor and equipment donated by Wilson Construction, as well efforts from several volunteers.
“The hard part was cementing the support posts in place,” said Reggiani. “We kept running into large rocks and boulders. But thanks to Todd Nothstine and the rest Wilson’s crew, once we had them in place, the fencing went up amazingly fast. Those guys are awesome.”
The fence was completed about one-fourth of the way through the season. So, the big question now: Who will hit the first official Cordova Little League home run?
“It hasn’t happened yet,” said Reggiani, who umpires almost all the games. “But it will. I can think of a couple Major Leaguers who could hit it out.”
The finishing touches on the metal fences were plastic yellow safety “toppers” that cover the exposed upper edges. They arrived late, and on the afternoon of Monday, June 4, Reggiani and his wife Molly were pulling sections out of the back of his truck and fastening them atop the fencing.
It was a sunny bluebird afternoon. And folks like Dave and his wife, all the Little League volunteers, and Wilson Construction, have already hit a home run.