Pulling The String

Sometimes, I get on a subject, or person, and memories start popping like kernels in hot oil. Such is the case with my best pal, Barry’s dad, Cliff Patterson. While talking to Sherry yesterday evening about the story, The Day I Died, I suddenly remembered when Mr. Patterson was my little league baseball coach.

I was pretty good pitcher in little league, mainly because my dad had taught me good form and insisted on accuracy. I have to admit, though his methods were not the best—they were downright brutal—he did teach me well in some cases. I had a decent fast ball and could put it in the mitt consistently. By the way, Barry was my catcher for a couple of those little league years and throughout high school.

One thing about pitching my dad didn’t teach me that Mr. Patterson did was how to throw a changeup. For you non-baseball folks, a changeup is a pitch that is thrown with less velocity than a fastball. It is a pitch designed to fool a batter and cause him to swing early, or simply watch, dumbfounded, as the ball floats over the plate. The fact that I threw only fast balls, and threw fairly hard and straight made a changeup the perfect pitch when the situation was right. Mr. Patterson lived for those situations!

I remember so well, him standing over by the bench, with that grin on his face—he always seemed to wear that grin—waiting and watching for the perfect opportunity to “pull the string”. That’s what he loved to call it when I threw my changeup. When the situation was just right he’d hold his hand up to his chest very nonchalantly and do this little jerking motion, which was the signal. I had to keep a straight face, because if I so much as smiled, it would alert the opposing coach, and he’d start yelling at his batter that the changeup was coming. And, let me tell you, if a kid knew it was coming, he could knock it a country mile. Deception was essential!

Typically, Mr. Patterson would wait until the biggest guy on the other team was batting—the kid who could hit the ball hard and was a home run threat—and had two strikes on him. We could only pull this off once—sometimes twice—a game, because if we used it too often, the other team could too easily guess when it was coming. I think this was the highlight of every game for Cliff Patterson. When it worked—and it almost always did—he would grin so big, he would look like one of those Cheshire cats. I know he wanted to laugh, but he also didn’t want to hurt the batter’s feelings; sportsmanship and all, you know.

It was indeed a hilarious site sometimes. The batter would be glaring out at me, mad because he had two strikes on him, and I’d look over at Mr. Patterson. He give that little jerking hand signal, and I’d sometimes have to put my glove over my mouth to hide the smile. I’d wind up and rare back like I was going to zing one down the middle; the batter would tense and draw back his bat; then, as my arm slung forward, I would let up and the ball would float toward the plate, looking like a big white balloon. I can remember the look in the eyes of some of those batters; a look of surprise and confusion, and sometimes even anger. I’m not kidding; there were a few occasions when the batter actually swung twice at the same pitch! Other times, they would stand there in shock as the ball floated over the plate for strike three.

The opposing batters, especially those I pulled the string on, hated that changeup. I don’t blame them. They sure looked silly trying to hit it! (Were you ever one of them, Gary?)


  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    I would have loved to have seen that!!

    • It’s one of my best childhood memories. The look on Mr. Patterson’s face, each time the string was successfully pulled, was priceless!

  2. gary said

    I didn’t know you had a cange-up until just now! What was that other crap you tried to throw? I think Barry was born with the tools of ignorance on.

    • I guess you couldn’t tell a changeup from a holdup. You never did pay attention too good. Don’t be mean to Barry. He couldn’t help it if he had to wear a mask!

  3. Vangie said

    Poor Barry. Does he read this stuff?

    • Aw… we’re just jabber-jawin, Angie. But, no, I don’t think he does.

      • Vangie said

        Too bad if he doesn’t read it cause it’s really funny stuff. I knew you were just kiddin.

      • I hope he somehow comes across it! That would be fun!

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