Taking swings against the King
On the Mark — By Craig Marks
The Harlem Globetrotters had the Washington Generals. The King and his Court, at least for one night, had Wheelie’s Warriors.
Last week, I was the right fielder for the Warriors, a ragtag bunch of locals who were invited to take part in a fast-pitch softball game at Firestone Stadium. The May 30 exhibition was a prelude to the Akron Racers’ home opener, scheduled at the ballpark the next day. (Our team was named after the Racers’ mascot, who is either a hamster, chipmunk or hamster/chipmunk hybrid. It’s hard to tell.)
Our opponent, The King and his Court, was led by 81-year-old Eddie Feigner, who has been barnstorming towns with a four-man softball team since 1946. In his heyday, Feigner could throw a softball faster than 100 miles per hour and whiff major leaguers. He watched our game from a wheelchair, secure in the knowledge that his Court could keep order.
I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I had two goals: not to embarrass myself and not to be struck with a pitch going the speed of a European train. It turned out I had little reason to be concerned. Except for a wayward pitch or two, their pitcher had pinpoint control, even when blindfolded or delivering the ball from second base.
And we did not have to worry about embarrassing ourselves, as the King and his Court were going to do it for us. Like the Globetrotters, the King’s team is a combination of skill and clowning, as adept at throwing good-natured insults as they are at throwing fastballs. But whereas the Trotters face the same rubes every game — the Washington Generals or the New York Nationals — Feigner’s players are thrown fresh meat each time.
Apparently, some of the meat wasn’t well done enough for their liking.
“Stop the game!” said Court infielder Jack Knight, as he stared at my pale bod in the batter’s box. “It’s summer. The next time you go to the beach, get out of the car.”
The crowd laughed. I smiled and imagined taking the next pitch over the fence to where Steve’s House of Bounce had stationed their inflatable playsets.
No, I didn’t hit a home run, but, to my surprise, I didn’t strike out, either. On a 2-2 pitch, my aluminum bat miraculously made contact with a fastball and sent a popup over second base. I don’t know if it was high enough to bring rain, but it might not be a coincidence that the Racers’ next three games were either postponed or suspended due to the wet stuff.
My parents and wife were among the few hundred fans in the crowd, and they had no problem with Knight’s comments. Before the game, Knight passed my 7-year-old daughter in the stands and asked if she was there for the beauty pageant. Having said that, he could have called me names Don Rickles would have found distasteful and still be in my family’s good graces.
This is the final tour for the King. After 61 years on the road, having entertained generations with softball and showmanship, Feigner is retiring. Wheelie’s Warriors are also calling it quits, though I wouldn’t wait for any formal announcement.