During the Golden Age of slo-pitch softball in Kenosha, my 400 Club team made an annual journey to La Crosse to participate in a tournament. It was a fun-packed weekend and a road trip that the entire squad looked forward to making each year. With family and friends included, it wasn’t unusual for the caravan to western Wisconsin to number over thirty people. It was such a popular event that players from other teams often offered their services to the “Club”, so they too could be part of this yearly bash.
One such player was Toaster.
Before going on, let me make it clear to you that Toaster, like most of the guys who played for the 400 Club, was quite a character. He has a real name, but due to some of his exploits that will be revealed in this blog, he will continue to be called by his nickname, Toaster.
Toaster was a young, up-and-coming softball player when he joined us in La Crosse. In the years that followed he not only became a regular member of the 400 Club, but also went on to develop into an outstanding hitter that played for many top ranked teams. Over two decades later, he is still playing at a competitive level.
Although it was always referred to as the La Crosse tournament, over the years we played in many different small towns in the area. Cities like Stoddard, Sparta and Brownsville have all had the honor of playing host to the rambunctious 400 Club team.
No matter what city we happened to be playing in, we traditionally stayed at the Bluff View Motel in La Crosse. Because of the distance that we had to travel, we were never scheduled to play on Friday night. This allowed us to check into the motel and carry out another time-honored tradition, going downstairs to the Anvil Lounge.
The Anvil Lounge was your typical motel bar, 12 stools and three or four small tables in the corner…and one large iron anvil. The first time we visited the Anvil Lounge, our first baseman Mark Montague felt compelled to head-butt it several times. But that’s a story for another time; this particular Friday night belonged to Toaster.
It was about 9:00 p.m. and most of the team had been enjoying adult beverages for a couple of hours. Our star pitcher, Danny Llanas, had just instructed our lovely bartender, Joan, on the fine art of mixing “root beer” shots. The first batch was making its way down the bar when Toaster made his entrance.
And what a spectacular entrance it was.
He bounced into the motel lounge grinning from ear-to-ear, clad only in a t-shirt, gym shorts and a pair of flip-flops. The problem was that his shorts were pulled down in the front and therefore were exposing his package. You know, his junk was showing.
Hearing the snickers, the fetching Joan looked over from behind the bar and noticed that little Toaster was making an appearance. Undaunted, she smirked at “Toaster” and commented, “That’s nice, but it’s not hard.” A hush fell over the Anvil Lounge.
Then Toaster, not to be outdone, smiled broadly and pointed at the attractive bartender saying. “Baby, that’s where you come in!” The bar erupted in laughter and a blushing Joan put her head down and starting mixing another batch of “root beer” shots.
After making himself decent, Toaster proceeded to do serious damage to the alcohol supply at the Anvil Lounge. Feeling a bit cock-sure (pun intended), he asked me what position he would be playing tomorrow. I informed him that the regulars would play the field and he would be the designated hitter.
When he loudly informed me that he hadn’t come all this way just to be the DH and sit on the bench, the hair on the back of my neck began to stand up. Before I could say anything, Jimmy G tapped me on the shoulder and quietly said, “That’s okay Paul, I will DH. Let the superstar play rightfield.”
Telling Jimmy G that I appreciated the gesture, I then informed Toaster that he would be playing rightfield. Satisfied, he went back to his mission of becoming extremely intoxicated. Shaking my head, I again thanked Jimmy G and made my way up to my room, after all, we had a 10:00 a.m. game tomorrow.
The next morning, the pounding rain on my room’s window woke me up well before I had intended to get up. After muttering a few expletives, I got dressed and rounded up the squad to head to the ballpark. It was no small undertaking, because first I had to convince them that there was a chance we would play.
Driving through a downpour, I thought that there would be no way we would be able to play. Much to my surprise, when we arrived games were being played despite the standing water on the field. Catching the attention of one of the poncho-wearing umpires, I asked, “Are you kidding?” “Rain or shine, buddy. Rain or shine” was his reply.
Resigned to the fact that we were indeed playing, I started making out a line-up. Gathering the team, I called out the batting order, “Okay, Red – 2B, Eddie - LC, Hollywood - SS, Munk - C, Ronnie – 3B, Toaster – RF…” Before I could say another word I was rudely interrupted by, “That’s okay Paul, I will DH. Let Jimmy G play rightfield.”
Wiping the rain from my spectacles, I looked up from my rain soaked scorebook to see a very hung-over Toaster clad in an orange Hawaiian shirt. Before I could reply to him, the normally congenial Jimmy G blurted out, “F*ck you Toaster! You go out there in this slop. You wanted to play rightfield, I will DH.”
Despite the weather, I beamed as I finished reading the line-up and we played softball in a constant shower. I think that we won the game, but I’m not sure. I do know for sure that Jimmy G was the DH in that game and sat next to me on the covered bench. Meanwhile, Toaster slid and flopped around in the mud, all the while struggling not to get sick all over his orange Hawaiian shirt.
Now you can see why the annual 400 Club La Crosse tournament was a tradition that the team always looked forward to and why players from other teams would want to be a part of it. Stay hot Toaster! Until next time…from the booth.