The imaginary wiffle ball world

Last week I was supposed to put something in the Courier to remind people (read: “Let them know”) about the barbecue for the Kentucky Missions Team set for noon this Saturday. The cost of a one-week trip into Middlesboro, 6-25 Page 4A.inddKy., to work at small mountain churches keeps going up, so to make sure it does not lose money this year and to allow the teenagers going on the trip to be able to afford it, this year we are having a barbecue dinner to raise money.

Well, last week was a bad week, with the Azalea Fest and several other “hard news” stories fighting for space, I didn’t feel I could justify cutting something just to fit an announcement into the paper. This week looks tight, too, so I figured the best way to fit such an announcement in would be to put it in a spot where nobody would miss the usual copy.

And the most obvious spot would seem to be my column.

So I started to think about what makes Kentucky Missions so special anyway. And my mind wandered back to a trip more than a decade ago.

At the time, each person on the missionary team would go to one of the churches where our team was conducting a Bible School. I was assigned to Moss Chapel Baptist Church, which met at nights. A week before we left, Bobby Haley came before our group and said we had a chance to serve one more church. He asked for volunteers, because working a morning church and a night church was considered a sacrifice.

Of course, now, every missionary works both a morning church and a night church. But at the time, the idea was unique.

I watched as several people whom I admired volunteered to go to the church. I decided I could have some fun with those people, so I volunteered, too.

The church was Whipple Baptist Church. It was probably the most country church I had attended at that point. It was near some railroad tracks, like many of the churches in Bell County, Ky.

When I went to the church the first day, the other missionaries went inside to prepare for their class. I was teaching the same age group at Moss Chapel, so I thought I was prepared for my lesson. So I waited outside, sitting on one of the church steps, when a young boy arrived early for Bible School.

Our recreation equipment was limited. All we had was a plastic bat that would knock what was called a “wiffle ball.” I was a dumb country boy, and I wondered how those guys on television could throw a plastic ball that hard in a baseball game. I later learned that they used what was called a “baseball.”

As I said, all we had was a bat for a wiffle ball, no ball itself. But there were not many options I could use to entertain this young man. We could wrestle, but I had an idea of who would win and I was afraid he would hurt me. So I stood and shouted, “You want to play?”

The kid looked at me and noticed I only had a bat. Judging me as insane, he smiled back and said “OK.”

I gave him the bat and stood about 15 feet away. As he took a few practice swings, I pretended I had a ball in my hands. I rared back and threw the imaginary ball. He swung, threw his bat, then ran to first base.

I clowned, pretending to field a pop fly, but let him know I had dropped the ball.

He advanced to second base, then to third and finally to home plate. An imaginary home run on his first at-bat.

On the next at-bat, he didn’t swing at one pitch.

“That one was high,” he said, scrambling behind himself to pick up the imaginary ball. A few pitches later he “hit” another home run. And another.

I believe he was up 42-0 when we had to stop to go in for Bible School.

Stacey Melton was on our team, and she was at the time an all-conference pitcher for the Pickens Blue Flame softball team. But she stayed inside preparing for her class, while my little slugger rounded the bags.

I’m not sure why that memory stood out for me. There was no Bible lesson involved. No real game of baseball. But I imagine that boy told all his friends about playing wiffle ball with no wiffle ball. I hope he did.

Kids in the mill villages in Kentucky are like me, having to rely upon their imaginations for a good time.

So that’s where I’ll leave this one. I hope to see all of you this Saturday at 11 a.m. for the Kentucky Missions barbecue at Griffin Baptist Church in Pickens. Come early so you will be hungry enough to order a plate for supper, too!