One of my favorite podcasts that I listen to is Hang Up and Listen a sports podcast on slate.com. Every week they end their show with what they call Afterballs. Each person on the show gives an essay about an obscure time in sports history. Whether it’s about a baseball game that featured players on one team that had only one arm vs. a team of players that only had one leg, or about who has the longest names in baseball not by letters but by width of the letters in the name it is usually one of my favorite parts of the show.
So today I am going to attempt to write an Afterball in the style of that on Hang Up and Listen.
Usually they don’t call them Afterballs they call them something else. I just played in a fastpitch tournament (which I’ll reference below) and for the coin flip to determine the home team they used what was called the Hank Coin. A coin that has the face of a longtime fastpitch umpire Hank St. Claire who passed away a few years ago on it. It was rumored that the “heads” side of the coin was heavier meaning it would come up heads more often than not.
So here is my Hank Coin.
As I mentioned before this weekend I played in the North America Fastpitch Association, or NAFA, Super Regional in Madison Wisconsin. It featured 6 teams coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas and Indiana. 4 hours north in Rice Lake Wisconsin there was another NAFA tournament happening that featured 11 teams coming from Wisconsin in Minnesota. In many places where softball is fading away the sport of men’s fastpitch is still going strong in Wisconsin. One of the best players to play the game was my father Joe Diedrich.
My Dad was a very talented baseball player in Ladysmith Wisconsin. He was actually scouted while in high school. And could have had a chance but as he would admit himself the one thing he lacked was speed. My Dad played shortstop and could field and throw, he could hit, and he could definitely hit for power.
After graduating in 1980 he started playing fastpitch softball for Norco Windows out of the small town of Hawkins WI. At the time fastpitch softball was flourishing. Norco Windows actually had two teams; one with the older guys and one with the “kids”. My Dad would play in tournaments all across the state and hitting the ball out of parks wherever he went.
I was born in 1985, and in the summer of 1986 my Dad wanted to play in a tournament, but my Mom told him that he could only go if he brought me with. I experienced my first fastpitch tournament before I turned one-year-old. I don’t know much about it, but it was probably from that moment that I fell in love with the game.
My Dad did his best to instill the game of baseball into me. When my sister was being born in late October my Aunt was babysitting me and my Dad instructed her that I was to watch every inning of that year’s World Series. He did a pretty good job because all I wanted to do as a kid was play baseball.
Ever since I could actually remember watching my Dad play I would see the same thing. I would see him hitting home runs. He was a great power hitter in a time when bats did not have the pop that they do today. In the 1990 Wisconsin State tournament my Dad would hit .440 with a home run, double and triple. He had the most hits in the tournament with 11 on just 23 at-bats. Two of those hits would come in the championship game which his team won. He would go onto make the all state team as second basemen.
In the 1989 National Tournament in Oklahoma City my Dad hit a home run which was captured perfectly by grandma in the picture below.
Unfortunately those are the only stats that I have on my Dad. But I saw him play and he could hit.
When I was 14, after years of begging to play alongside my Dad, I finally got called in to play when his team only had 8 guys. My dad’s goal was to play until he could play on the same team as me. And he did for another 11 years.
In his 24 years playing in the Rice Lake Fastpitch league he batted 3rd every time. Even in his final years playing when he could barely run and could barely throw anymore he still batted 3rd and he still played the field; even when we had plenty of guys who could play and who were half his age. As he played through the years he would move from shortstop, to second base to first base. Sometimes he had to play second base and even though he had lost a few steps he would still give it his all to get to a ball in the hole.
In one game he was the only guy who could pitch for us. He had only thrown a little bit of batting practice but for that one night it was going to have to work. It was probably one of the rare moments where there was a father-son battery.
In his last few years playing he would still try to swing as hard as he could and in fact injured himself a few times doing so. In his final years of playing he joked that he would end his career by hitting a home run and once he touched home plate he was going to take off his cleats and go straight to the bar.
In one game towards the end of his career he struck out twice, as he walked back to the dugout he said, “I fucking suck, I’m done. Get one of these young guys in here.” Our manager told him that he wasn’t going to pull him from the game and had my Dad go back into the field. In my Dad’s next at bat he hit a home run prompting everyone on our team to quit for the moment in hopes that we would get a bit of power as well.
Of all the hits that my Dad had there are two hits that I know are probably his greatest.
In 1994 Eddie Feigner, the King and His Court, came to Rice Lake Wisconsin to play a game against the best players in the Rice Lake League, which at the time had 12 teams in just its top division. Eddie Feigner only had 3 other players on his team because he could strike everyone out. He was so good that he could throw from second base and still strike guys out.
In my Dad’s first at bat he hit the ball over the shortstop’s head and into the vacant outfield. As he rounded first he heard the first basement say, “Just keep running.” My Dad was on his way to an inside the park home run, but the shortstop had gotten to the ball at the fence and threw and absolute strike to the plate to get my Dad out. It may have surprised a lot of people in the crowd, but it didn’t surprise me who was used to seeing him hit every pitcher that he faced. When I asked my Dad about the at bat he said that he started his swing when Eddie started his wind-up.
The next time my Dad faced Eddie in that game he struck him out on 3 straight pitches.
My Dad hit a lot of home runs during his 30 year career but if you ask him his most memorable home run it came in 2010. In the Rice Lake League, which just 17 years later only had 12 teams total across three divisions, I hit just my 2nd home run ever just barely clearing the right field fence. The next batter was my Dad and he hit a home run that cleared the fence by about 30 feet. It would be his last home run of his career.
My Dad got both of his knees replaced in 2012 and now spends his days hunting, making maple syrup and golfing.
Today wearing the number 19 just like my Dad did I hit just my 13th home run ever so by my calculations I’m still about 375 or so home runs behind my Dad.
Thank you Dad for teaching me the great game of baseball and fastpitch. And Happy Father's Day.