kegger stories

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I joined a Greek fraternity at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1976. Like most large schools with dozens of different houses, an incoming freshman had a lot to choose from. There were old Southern houses that dated back to the Civil War. There were heavy drinking houses. Other houses preferred the “herbal” life. Beach music houses, Grateful Dead houses, preppy houses, Jewish houses, bookworm houses, African-American houses, zoo houses and yeah, there were jock houses.

Pi Lambda Phi House at the University of VirginiaI joined Pi Lambda Phi, a mutt house. We had a little bit of everything. An “Island of Misfit Toys”, if you will. We had pre-meds and pre-laws, Young Republicans and Young Democrats, some “toolies” (engineers) and more than a few English and psych majors. We had long distance runners and couch potatoes both. Boozers, stoners and straight arrows. Some Casanovas but mostly wallflowers. Foosball aces and air guitar shredders. What we didn’t have was athletes.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

The fraternity intramural program at Virginia was cutthroat. Everyone knew who the jock houses were. Some of them even recruited new members based on what sports they were good at. We weren’t one of those houses. But I was happy there. It was a good bunch of guys and I made some new friends fairly quickly. We got crushed in intramurals though. Football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, the scores were always the same. Them many, us few.

I had played baseball from a very young age all the way through high school varsity. To be honest, that was a lot more baseball than any other brother had played. The jock houses would rarely if ever allow their freshmen to play but our house let me, still a spring pledge, play wherever I wanted on the softball team. So I headed right for shortstop, my favorite position.

Our pitcher was Jimmy Joe Townsend. Jimmy Joe was everybody’s favorite brother, a natural leader and a certified party animal. Jimmy Joe had also graduated two years earlier. So he was now about to start his sixth season as the house team pitcher. Obviously, he was ineligible but nobody cared. We were the cupcake on everybody’s schedule. When Nebraska plays football against Eastern Michigan, we were Eastern Michigan. The other houses couldn’t wait to feast on us so a sixth-year pitcher didn’t bother them a bit.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I was a young, 19-year-old, hotheaded punk and I wanted to show these guys what “real” softball looked like. In the first inning of our first game, we gave up a single. Man on first, the double play is in force. So this punk freshman calls time, jogs to the pitcher’s mound and says …

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

“Get out of my face, pledge, and go back to your position”, Jimmy Joe snarled.

Okay, then.

Next inning, same thing. Man on first, the double play is there again. This time though, I stayed where I was and called out to him …

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Now, it was Jimmy Joe’s turn to call time and wave me to the mound for a chat. “Ground ball back to me? What are you talking about?”, he asked.

I told him, “Okay, look, we can get a double play here. If this batter hits a sharp grounder back to you, just turn around and fire it at the second base bag. Don’t worry, I’ll be there. Just throw it.”

Now it was Jimmy Joe’s turn to laugh. “We’re not going to turn a double play. Not now, not ever. So let’s get back to playing, okay?”

Next inning, same thing.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Now he was upset. He turned around to face me and yelled, “Are you going to remind me every time?”

“Yes, I am. Every time.”

We lost that game. Pounded into dust as usual.

Back at the house, Jimmy Joe still wanted to know if I was going to remind him every time a man got on first. I assured him that’s exactly what was going to happen. Every time. Baseball (or intramural softball in this case) is a game of repetition. You do the same things the same way every time. Everything. That’s how you react so you can make a play automatically. Baseball requires persistence, perseverance and rivers of infinite patience. Jimmy Joe was in for four more years of an earful.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

All year long, I reminded Jimmy Joe what to do. Once he understood I was not going to stop reminding him, he just stood there facing the plate with his back to me and nodded in silence. Every time. Persistence.

We lost every game that year. Nobody hit a grounder back to him. Not one. And yes, I was still a hothead. Bat slamming, glove tossing, ball throwing, yelling and screaming at my teammates, arguing with umpires, pouting at the house afterwards and so on. I was your typical obnoxious freshman with a serious hatred for losing.

We didn’t win the next year either. Same story. We were overmatched and there were no mercy rules. The other teams poured it on and beat us every way possible. But I still persisted with Jimmy Joe, now in his seventh year as our “ineligible” pitcher. Still no ground balls back to him with a man on first though.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Over and over again. Game after game after game. Inning after inning. Runner on first after runner on first. I had mellowed somewhat from the previous year but not all that much. I still hated losing but it didn’t seem worth being a complete jerk about it.

Next year, my third year, no change. Same games, same jock houses, same painful losses. But I didn’t let up on Jimmy Joe.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Still no grounders. Three years of reminding him and not a thing to show for it.

For our first game of my fourth and final year, we played Sigma Phi Epsilon, SPE, the “Spees”, a noted jock house. I still kept yapping at Jimmy Joe, he still kept nodding at me in silence and we still didn’t get a grounder back to him. The Spees killed us. 17-0. It was my worst game ever. I booted easy grounders, threw the ball away for errors, got thrown out foolishly trying to take an extra base and threw bats and raged at everyone including Jimmy Joe, now in his ninth year on the mound. I had had it with all the losing and took it out on everyone. Just an awful awful performance. But I kept reminding him. That rotten day and every other day.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Our last game of the year arrived and we still hadn’t won one. We were actually 0-for-4 years. And we were playing the Spees again. Lovely.

As long as I’ve played and followed sports, I’m still amazed when weird and strange things happen for no reason. That day, in the rematch against the powerful Spees, someone somewhere had thrown a whole bucket of magic fairy pixie dust on our misfit nine. We couldn’t do anything wrong. Every ball we hit fell in for a base hit. We made every catch and every throw. We scored runs in bunches. Every time you looked up, our guys were wheeling around the bases one right after another. It made no sense. There was nothing to suggest this could ever happen. But to our amazement, and they couldn’t believe it either, we were destroying the Spees.

And then it happened.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I can’t explain why but I was already moving as the batter swung and hit a sharp, one-hopper, chest high right at Jimmy Joe. This was it. Without a word, Jimmy Joe whirled and threw a perfect strike at the second base bag. Belt high, in an arrow-straight line as hard as he could throw it. Four years of persistent reminders, four years of patient nods, four years of waiting, planning and getting ready for this one moment in time. Jimmy Joe was ready and Jimmy Joe let out all his frustration by firing the ball at the bag.

I caught the ball just as it arrived, kicked the bag and then sizzled a bullet to first base. Smack, smack. Double play. It was so quick, so fast, so sudden that the Spee runners froze in their tracks. The umpire, with a shocked look on his face, didn’t even bother with either out call. And then we all just jogged off the field in silence as if we had been turning double plays forever. Nothing needed to be said. Jimmy Joe’s infinite patience with me had paid off at the perfect time. On the sideline, he and I just nodded and smiled at each other.

A few innings later, after the Spees made their last out, we all celebrated with Jimmy Joe at the mound. Final score was 19-3. It was our first and only win. When we got back to the house to continue the celebration, the other brothers there laughed when we told them the score. The very idea we could even stay close to the Spees was hilarious. Kicking their asses was too much for them to believe. But we tapped a keg anyway and continued celebrating until they finally realized we had actually won. And then everybody joined in for an epic all-night kegger.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

###
Image Credit: Pi Lambda Phi House at the University of Virginia (Puppysnot/CC/Wikimedia.org)
Robert E Hunt Jr

Robert E Hunt Jr

Bob is a software developer specializing in large scale database applications. He was born near Philadelphia, grew up on the Jersey Shore (Bruce!), graduated from the University of Virginia in 1980 and moved to the Charlotte, NC area in 1990. Bob is an avid sports fan, a political junkie, a music and cinema buff and a history book reader. Bob is married to Cindy Hunt and together they have three beautiful and smart adult daughters and three adorable granddaughters. Bob's past lives are a bit more checkered. He was a Roman centurion killed in the Battle of Pharsalus, Shakespeare's secretary and the uncredited author of "Othello" and finally, he was one of the North Carolina infantrymen who accidentally shot Stonewall Jackson.