Daughter Karen and son-in-law Ken are attending an event at Michigan State University today - the "First Pitch" dinner. Among other activities at the event, Jake Boss, Jr. (the team's new coach and son of their friend Jake) will introduce the 2009 Spartan baseball team.
I asked Karen if she remembered the story about her grandfather playing baseball at (not for) MAC (Michigan Agricultural College). She didn't, so I recounted it for her in an email, as follows:
Your Grandfather Woodruff (Oberlin 1920) was a good athlete. When he went to Oberlin (the first college to ever enroll coeds) his Mother had notions that he might take up the ministry...Oberlin was THE Congregational college.(This is the same Allen Woodruff who was driving a milk wagon in the whorehouse district of Denver when he was a Junior in high school...) Obviously the minister thing didn't take.
In those days when you entered Oberlin you had to take a pledge that you wouldn't drink or smoke or commit any other various and sundry sins. Dad and his roommate took note of the fact that the pledge didn't specifically prohibit chewing so they bought some chewing tobacco and put a big crock in the center of their room and took up chewing and spitting.
Dad played tackle on a very good Oberlin football team (once caught a pass for a touchdown on a trick tackle-eligible play). His teammates were so good that in 1921 they beat Ohio State, the last Ohio college to do so.
In baseball he was a very good hitter but a not-so-hot fielder. Under those circumstances the coach usually assigns the good hitter to play right field where he can do the least amount of damage. Also in those days professional baseball players chewed while they played. Ken can probably remember when they still did.
One time I asked Dad what was the hardest he ever hit a ball. Without hesitation he replied that it was the one that went right back to the mound and hit the pitcher in the forehead and knocked him to the ground.
Anyway, this one spring Oberlin traveled to East Lansing to play MAC.They played on Old College Field whereMSU still plays (though they have just gussied it up I understand). Dad was in right field as usual and nothing was coming his way so he decides to have a chew. He was right handed which means that his baseball glove was on his left hand. (The chewing tobacco is in his left rear pocket). So he slips his hand out of the glove and reaches into the hip pocket for the chaw when CRACK! The batter hits the ball to right field and Dad starts after the flyball but his left hand (which should be in the glove) is around the chew like an eagle's claws on a fish.
Of course he might have flubbed the flyball under the best of conditions but trying for it barehanded with his right hand while running with his left hand in his rear pocket it was hopeless. The ball bounced off his hand and dropped to the ground and I don't know how many runners advanced but the hitter was credited with reaching first on an error.
By that time in the telling I was laughing so hard I don't remember Dad telling what the coach's and team's reaction was but Oberlin lost the game. I hope by more than one run.
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