By BRUCE HOWARD
VETERAN: 63-year-old Bob Tinker awaits a ground ball while playing for the Broken Arrow Oilers in the Metro Tulsa Baseball Association.
Photos courtesy of BRUCE HOWARD
Bill Hayward looks through his glasses at a tattered scorebook. The scorebook is laden with often changing schedules and various documents including sign-up sheets for the Metro Tulsa Baseball Association. Even though the season is already underway, he is always on the lookout for someone else, another soul who long ago played the game, and would like to play again. He looks across the field to a mostly empty parking lot, still wondering who will show up. Thirteen said they would. Only eight have come so far, and the scheduled first pitch is 15 minutes away. He has written many lineups, only to change them at the last moment. He is now smart enough to write in pencil and have a strong eraser.
He looks at the sky and the searing sun, and knows this is going to be a hot one. With cigarette bobbing, he mutters “hope some more show up so I don’t have to play.” Those arriving late get put in the bottom of the order, but everyone gets to bat in this league. He has a beard that was much less gray when he started 16 years ago and a stomach that has added an inch or two. Or five. Today, he would prefer to only bat, and not have to play in the field.
Hayward is the manager of the Oilers, sometimes known as the Broken Arrow Oilers. This motley collection of has-beens and never-were’s gets together a couple of times a week to play the game they knew so long ago as children—baseball. Not the kinder, gentler slow pitch softball. Not even fast-pitch softball, which is dying a slow death as good pitchers fade away.
Baseball. The game your dad first taught you when you were four. Or younger. The game that is so simple you can have fun just having a catch. The game that is so complex that the Russians could put Sputnik into space, but still can’t figure out this strange American game. The game that you can watch 10,000 times, and yet in game 10,001, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.
The game is mostly served by youth, but this is different. The players are anywhere from 25 years old to 64, or older. Some played pro ball, some college, some only in high school. Not close to being the oldest in the league, Hayward is 55. He first played for the founding father of the league, Dan McKenzie, in 1989. He eventually became the manager of the Oilers, and is now the Secretary/Treasurer of the non-profit Metro Tulsa Baseball Association. His story is not different from many who play in the league. “I hadn’t played hardball since I was a kid, only playing fast pitch and slow pitch softball. As I was approaching 40, I found out about the league and have been hooked ever since.”
The league has several teams, with players scattered all over the Tulsa area. One of the more notable players is former major leaguer Rick Wrona, who plays for a team called the Dodgers. You might think he would “big league” other players, but it’s not the case. “He has as much fun as anyone in the league, and doesn’t take himself too seriously,” says MTBA commissioner Marty Riley, adding, “he’s a great ambassador for our league.”
Bill Hayward was lucky this day. He only had to play one inning in the field. In the second inning, “Peanut” arrived at the ballpark. Most of the guys have some sort of nickname. There’s “Sponge Bob.” “Ball Magnet,” “Vanilla Thunder” and “Goldilocks” among others on this team. But as is sometimes the case, the game doesn’t turn out so well. Aided by what has been known as an “Oiler Inning,” where the Oilers give up several unearned runs on a number of errors, the Rednecks rallied and won the game. But no one is terribly upset, and the camaraderie is always there.
There is another game on Thursday. Hayward, striking up another cigarette, yells out “who can’t be there?” More than anything, he can’t stand not putting a full team on the field. And, he would prefer giving his knees a rest by not playing in the field.
Umpire Dave Crawford strolls by. He only missed two or three calls this day. But he has another couple of games to ump, and he’s already had a long day. Crawford not only umps, but schedules each umpiring crew and takes care of grooming the fields. It is his work, along with the board of directors of the league and the managers, that keep the league going.
Because of rainouts this past year, the league finished in late October—World Series time. Only there wasn’t a celebration on the mound at the end. There wasn’t champagne flowing in the clubhouse. And there certainly wasn’t any World Series money to divvy up.
Shirt tails hanging out, dragging equipment and water jugs, some with their children at their sides, these guys who love the game perhaps as much as those in the majors trudged to the parking lot. Many have a noticeable limp. They put an ice pack on the bruises and went to work the next day.
For those interested in getting back in the game, the Metro Tulsa Baseball Association will be holding tryouts April 29, and May 7 in Tulsa. Go online at http://www.metrotulsabaseball.org/ for more information on locations and times.
The author is the voice of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on radio and television and a player in the Metro Tulsa Baseball Association.