Cordova Chronicles: Tales of an outhouse on the move and an Oregon State victory

Part of the magic of sports is the anticipation of a dramatic finish.

In basketball, we hope for a tie or one bucket margin in the closing seconds, which happened several times during Cordova’s Lady Wolverines games this past season, with resultant thundering roars that rattled the rafters as last gasp shots dropped in at the buzzer.

In baseball, wild celebrations occur after game-winning hits in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied or the home team trailing. Such an event even has a name: “a walk off win.” ESPN always includes such highlights, as professional athletes who are paid millions of dollars race out to tear the shirt off the hero after pounding him to the turf in a joyous mob or dousing him with a huge container of Gatorade.

Hall of Fame catcher/pundit Yogi Berra would say, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

Yet as award winning playwright and screen writer Paul Simon noted: “Sports is the only entertainment where, no matter how many times you go back, you never know the ending.”

And therein lies its charm.

Just a few weeks ago I had a Yogi Berra/Paul Simon Moment. It involved the unique convergence of a duck cabin outhouse, baseball and play-by-play announcers.

Back in 1959, when we built our duck cabin at Pete Dahl, I was mentored in the fine art of making something out of nothing, namely a 16-by-24-foot shack from of a vast pile of scrounged materials. The tutors were Harry Curran, Smokey Bernard and my Dad.

In five days we hammered a structure for the ages together, and at age 15, those were some of the proudest, most exciting times of my life. As the threesome worked on finishing details such as installing a second-hand oil stove and odd-ball sized windows, I received the ultimate praise:  assignment to build an outhouse from the remaining scraps of lumber.

Of course, that began by sinking an open-topped 55-gallon drum into the Delta turf, which was a quick lesson in the concept of water tables. None-the-less, with a few suggestion and an occasional helping hand, by day’s end I had produced an architectural masterpiece to rival the Million Dollar Bridge in both its ability to withstand the elements and the number of annual visitors.

In a testimony to endurance, it still stands today, albeit in a slightly different location. Why?

Well, back in the days prior to the 1964 earthquake, which eventually altered the desirable habitat available for waterfowl, hunting was fantastic. Customers at our Pete Dahl privy were legend, and the result inevitable, given its capacity.

Faced with an unenviable pair of options, we decided, upon need, to go with Plan B, namely moving the outhouse to a nearby location already fitted with a new barrel; and bury the old one, which for some reason became the location of the most gorgeous wild iris on the Delta.

Said relocation has occurred six times since 1959; the last, and perhaps most memorable, taking place in 2007. If I had ever dreamed moving said behemoth would be a future necessity, I would have been built a much lighter-weight design.

In June of that year, I invited John Davis down to help with the project. After all, what are friends for? We applied all sorts of fundamental engineering skills, including hydraulic jacks, levers and inclined planes, as well as lubrication of skids and engineers, since it turned out to be an incredibly gorgeous and fun-filled day.

Unique to this modern-day relocation effort was a nearby portable radio tuned into a Chicago Cubs baseball game. It was the first year XM Satellite Radio reached our cabin.

At some point in the game, the Cubbies, who were particularly inept that year, were so far behind that their play-by play-announcers Ron Santo and Rick Monday had begun discussing their golf games. The colorful Santo was a former All-Star for the Cubs, and occasionally, one would hear him interrupt the links debate with, “Oh no,” or “Oh man,” as Chicago made another blunder, but no description of what happened on the diamond.

John and I would drop our tools in laughter. It was the best two innings of non-play-by-play that we had ever heard.

Flash forward to June 23, 2018. I was at the duck cabin doing maintenance work. My beloved Oregon State Beaver baseball team was facing Mississippi State in a do-or-die game in the College World Series at Omaha, Nebraska. Unlike their football teams, which have been a model of ineptitude for so many years, the OSU baseball squad won the College World series in 2006 and 2007 under talented Coach Pat Casey; and with a win, would advance to the three-game playoff against Arkansas for the College baseball title.

The games were not on XM. However, my wife Sue was faithfully watching them on TV in town, and in another marvel of modern technology, texting me the latest updates every few innings.

By 7 p.m., I was done with various outdoor projects, and sat down to have a hot dog (of course), a cold beer and catch the end of the game. Can you believe I just happened to call Sue with the bottom of the ninth about to begin, and OSU leading 5-1?

Therein followed a Yogi deja vu. Sue, as it turns out, is more of a Ron Santo type than my eloquent Hall of Fame Idol, Dodger announcer Vin Scully. The OSU reliever allowed a run to score and had two outs. As I paced the cabin, cell phone to my ear, I heard several pauses, and phrases like “he walked a batter;” “he walked another batter;” “I can’t believe it, he hit a batter;” and then, “I can’t believe he loaded the bases.”

Then dead air. Not even the noise of the crowd or static, although some garbled background of the announcers on TV.

And finally, “Oh no.”

OMG. I uttered an eloquent phrase The Cordova Times editor would definitely censor. Yet unlike listening to Vin or Santo, I could plead directly with the announcer for more information.

“What is going on!?”

No response. Finally, “it’s a long fly ball … he’s going back … he catches it!”

“The Oregon State players are racing on the field, jumping in a pile and pounding each other in celebration.”

And I am singing the Oregon State Fight Song off the cabin deck to puzzled nearby geese: “OSU our hats are off to you, Beavers, Beavers, fighters through and through …”

Berra, Simon, Davis; Scully, Santo, and Sue.

Sports. Games that provide transcendent moments in our lives.

Thanks for another deja vu, sweetie.

Note: The following week OSU went on to defeat Arkansas in a best two out of three playoffs to win the National College World Series title in equally dramatic fashion. Unbelievably, the turning point was a foul ball popup missed by three Arkansas players while leading 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on the final Beaver batter.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.