Thursday, February 9, 2012

THAT Bobby Douglass?

The name of this blog is From The Booth for a reason. Beginning in the late ‘70s, softball was a major part of my life. When I wasn’t managing the 400 Club, I could be found in the booth at historic Finney’s West announcing games. During a typical week I was in that booth for 18 to 24 games. All those thousands of games provided me with countless memories. A special recollection was the time a famous quarterback played in a tournament.

It was an early Saturday morning in late June and I was calling for lineups for a first round game. I recognized one of the teams, but wasn’t familiar with the other. They were from northern Illinois and were signed up as Coca Cola.

After a second request, the manager of the Coca Cola team climbed the 13 rickety wooden steps up to the booth. The first words out of his mouth immediately told me this team was going to be interesting.

“We didn’t know this was a 12-inch tournament, we play 16-inch!”

Evidently they had assumed it was a 16-inch tourney and most of the guys hadn’t even bothered to bring gloves. The manager went downstairs to discuss the situation with his players. After a short meeting, they decided they would borrow some gloves and give it a shot.

Then he turned in his lineup.

As was my usual practice, I quickly scanned the lineup card in case there were any difficult names to pronounce. I didn’t get any further then the cleanup hitter. 

I looked up and said, “Coach, your right fielder, he’s not THAT Bobby Douglass, is he?” He nonchalantly replied, “Ya, why?” I blurted out something like, “just wondering” and wished him good luck.

For the uninformed, Bobby Douglass was an All-American quarterback who played most of NFL career with the Chicago Bears. He also played for the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers. Douglass retired after the 1978 season, playing a total of 10 seasons in the NFL.

In 1972, while playing for the Chicago Bears, Douglass set the record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in one season. The record stood for 34 tears. In that 14-game season, he ran for 968 yards and 8 touchdowns on 141 carries.

Now you can understand why I was taken aback when I saw his name in the Coca Cola lineup. After quickly scribbling the names onto my scorecard, I looked on the field at the Coca Cola players warming up, attempting to get use to the smaller ball.

There he was!

Wearing his familiar number ten, the muscular 6’4” athlete didn’t look a pound over the 225 pounds he weighed when he was setting records in the NFL. His blond locks were still shoulder length and framed his chiseled bronze face.

It was THAT Bobby Douglass!

It didn’t take long for others in the ballpark to become aware that there was an NFL legend playing softball at the corner of highways E and 31 in Somers, Wisconsin.

Especially after I announced him as “former Green Bay Packer great, Bobby Douglass”.

The big lefty stepped out of the batters and grinned up at the booth as the crowd began to buzz. Being from Illinois, his teammates razzed him about the Packer reference, but Douglass didn’t seem to mind.

Not being sure how Douglass would take the “publicity”, I was relieved to see his reaction. That was good, because for the next two days, there was a steady stream of kids coming up to the booth asking for used softballs so the football hero could autograph them.

Douglass didn’t seem to mind all of the hoopla, so I continued the grandiose introductions each time he would step to the plate. I would mention any stat or piece of minutia about him that I could think of and the crowd loved it. Everyone was having a great time.

The Coca Cola team didn’t fare badly, considering they were a 16-inch team playing in a 12-inch tournament. Bobby Douglass was an solid hitter and had a rocket of an arm, gunning down those who were foolish enough to run on the ex-NFL quarterback.

When his team was finally eliminated early Sunday afternoon, Bobby Douglass climbed the 13 rickety wooden steps up to the booth. Still a bit in awe, I managed to tell him that I hoped he didn’t mind all of the extra attention.

I will never forget what Douglass did next.

As he extended his massive hand, he said, “I want to thank you for making me feel special again. I haven’t felt like this since I was playing in the NFL. Thank you.” He then shook my hand and left the booth.

Ya, it was THAT Bobby Douglass.

Until next time…from the booth.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

awe shucks, Sharon

Kelly Infusino said...

Great story Paul!

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Thanks, Kelly.