“That Got Me to Thinking…?” Chapter 4 “The Dairymen’s Angels”
By Bruce Williams
Following my sisters’ fastpitch softball team around the state in the ‘70’s (being the youngest of three kids, I had no choice) in the family’s Weekender camper to such broken-compass locales as Packwood, Wenatchee, Puyallup and Kelso proved formative—providing a true treasure trove of observational tropes. The camper itself was anchored atop my dad’s pickup, and my oldest sister Linda and I would ride in the overhang above the cab, pouncing on candy bars that would parachute out of the cupboards as my dad thunked every pothole and mud puddle on one of his patented “shortcuts”. We’d sing “American Pie”, “Seasons In The Sun” and “Fox On The Run”, our dually feathered hair bopping to the beat. Meanwhile, my middle sister Lisa rode in the comparative safety of the front cab sandwiched between both parents, acting as a buffer between my mom’s simmering dissatisfaction and my dad’s passive-aggressive flatulence.
Once on site at the tournament, us kids would scatter and scope out the concessions and some of the opposing teams. There was a girl on Alfy’s Pizza from the northern part of the state that pitched every game for her squad with a big windmill delivery that nobody could hit so most teams would eventually just try to bunt their way aboard. I remember she looked a little like Janet from “Three’s Company” and I found her not only older, but also exotic and exciting as she’d grunt during the flaming release of her fastballs. We would also look for my sisters’ cross-town rivals, the Shamrocks, who always seemed to best the Angels but would prove vulnerable on occasion, making victories in that rivalry so much the sweeter.
There was a little brothers club of sorts formed ad hoc-ly out of necessity: myself, Shriver and Sheriff mainly…and a few other spottier interlopers. We’d walk down to the Green Frog convenience store in Tumwater with our five bucks during home games. I convinced myself I was eating a healthy meal by grabbing a pepperoni stick (meat), chips (starch), Hostess pie (fruit) & chocolate milk (dairy). We’d have dirt clod fights on unoccupied fields, toss a mini football or just wander the grounds, checking out the slightly older girls in their tight baseball pants covering their burgeoning hips, not really knowing what we would do with them if we were ever presented with the unlikely opportunity.
Our sisters’ team had several distinct characters—there was Karen the catcher; a tomboy with a sandy-colored perm (who would later serve hard time for meth trafficking)—the three straps of the catcher’s mask neatly dividing her head into quarters by the end of a day’s matchups. Patty, the backup catcher who reminded everyone of her Peanuts’ namesake in many ways—right down to the stringy red hair. Her distinguishing characteristic was the huge hog bite scar on her thigh, terrifyingly visible in the shorts version of the Dairymen’s Angels uniform options. Paula, an outfielder with a troubled home life (later horrifically murdered by her abusive husband), and then sisters Linda (a side-winder pitcher) and Lisa (an infielder and spray-singles hitter). Sheriff’s sister was the shortstop. It seemed like most of the coaches smoked back then—even today when I smell cigarette smoke and freshly cut grass I think of those tournaments and my own hardball experiences, breathing in and remembering them deep in my olfactory.
My mom was a throaty, verbose backer from the stands—the kind of parent capable of providing endless waves of childhood embarrassment–also the kind that prompts the coaches of today to post sportsmanship guidelines on the bleacher-facing sides of backstops, highly visible to overzealous parents. The team itself would perform all of these elaborate, choreographed cheers from the dugout, complete with synchronized clapping sequences and call-and-response refrains. Really, to this day I marvel when I see these performances at softball games…completely foreign to the world of hardball.
Really, what I learned most from being a tag-along little brother during those years was patience. It was before the era of handheld games (unless you count that red-blipped football game from Mattel), tablets or iPods, so you had to entertain yourselves while navigating the seatbelt-less, truck bed-riding, soft-serve swirl cone ‘70’s. I’m still friends with those other little brothers (now old men), too–ran into Shriver and his family around Christmastime and follow Sheriff’s Jimmy Buffet-style life through social media. And I’ll still stop and watch part of a softball game when I’m out walking our beagle and they’re playing up at Sunset Park near our house…the team cheers still causing me to stop and recant those hot dog-and-mustard double-header days of yore.