“Cowboy Baseball,” Friend, June 2002, 16
“Are your chores done, Jesse?” Ma called as I grabbed the old baseball and darted for the open front door. The fellows were waiting for me down at the churchyard.
“Mostly done,” I answered. “I’ll feed the chickens and pigs when I get back,” I promised.
I looked at the tattered leather ball with the frayed red string. Ma had tried to repair it a half dozen times. Last time, she had muttered, “I’m just repairing the repairs now.” But in 1892, it was the best baseball we had in Snowflake, Arizona.
I’d been playing baseball ever since Uncle Rupert had given me the ball when I turned five. He had played with that same ball on the Deseret Territory championship team years before.
“We’re burning up our afternoon,” Hal Kartchner grumbled to me when I finally arrived at the churchyard. The meetinghouse was right in the middle of town. We boys had fixed up a nice baseball diamond close by, but we were plagued by prairie dog holes dotting the field. We had to be careful to not step in one and drop to our knee in a prairie dog’s front room.
I looked over at Winston Hatch, who owned our only bat. It was scarred and had nicks everywhere except where we gripped it, which was smooth and polished from all the sweaty hands clutching it. I was the youngest one there, but I could play as well as anybody because I practiced every chance I got.
I was about to throw the first pitch, when Willie Flake yelled, “Hey, fellows, look who’s coming.”
Riding slowly down the street were six cowboys from the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. Hardly anybody made us as nervous as they did—the Hashknife Cowboys. The Aztec Cattle Company claimed thousands and thousands of acres around Snowflake and ran more than fifty thousand cattle on that land. They didn’t have much use for us “Mormons.” The Hashknife Cowboys seemed as happy to argue and fight as to tip their hats and say hello.
“That’s Red Martin on the black horse,” Heber Ballard whispered. “I hear he’s really mean and ornery.”
“Just keep playing,” I cautioned. “They won’t bother us.”
Heber missed my first two pitches, then sent that old ball flying out to center field over Mel Rogers’s head. As the ball rolled to the far end of the churchyard, Red Martin galloped across the street. Holding onto his saddle horn, he scooped up our ball, and charged across the field toward me.
I stood frozen to the ground, my eyes bulging, my heart pounding. A few feet before his horse trampled over me, Red pulled back on his reins. The horse slid to a stop in a cloud of dust. Red laughed raucously, holding my ball over my head. “That’s how you play ball, Mormon boy.”
“Could I have my ball, sir?” I rasped, trying hard to hide my fear.
Just then, his five buddies charged across the street whooping and hollering, and suddenly I wished I was home feeding the chickens and pigs.
Those six cowboys crowded their horses around the pitcher’s mound and grinned down at me. “Do you fellows want to play a little baseball?” Red asked his buddies, still clutching my old ball. “I used to play baseball back in Texas.”
“That was probably before the Rangers ran you out of the territory,” a big burly cowboy howled.
“Hush up your face, Chappy,” Red growled.
“I never saw much sense to baseball,” Chappy grumbled. “It’s too much of a city boy’s game—whacking a little ball around with a stick.”
Red frowned, tossed me the ball and jabbed a finger at him. “Get off your horse, Chappy. This here city boy is going to pitch you the ball.”
“I sure ain’t afraid of no dog-eared ball that some little Mormon weasel will throw my way,” Chappy snapped, glaring down at me.
“I bet us city boys can take you cowboys any time,” I challenged. “We’ll even spot you five points.”
The cowboys looked at Red. He twisted his thumb in his beard, thinking. “I never knew a Mormon who could beat a Hashknife Cowboy at anything. We’ll chew them up and spit them out before the supper bell rings. We bat first.”
My buddies looked a little scared. “Why’d you have to invite them to play?” Mel Rogers grumbled.
The cowboys tied their horses to a juniper tree, but every single one of them kept his guns, chaps, and spurs on. They stomped over to home plate.
“Give me that there stick,” Chappy ordered. He spit once in each hand and gripped the bat. “Let her fly, city boy.”
Red and the other cowboys hooted and hollered. Had Chappy not called me a city boy, I’d have thrown him a nice slow pitch. Instead, I burned that tattered baseball across home plate. Chappy swung with all his might—and missed that ball a mile. In fact, he swung so hard that he twirled around and fell in the dust in a heap.
“Don’t let an itty-bitty bat buck you,” Red cackled while the other cowboys beat their hats against their legs, laughing loudly. Chappy sprang to his feet and glared at me. I burned another one so fast that the ball had already passed him when he swung. I barely lobbed the third one. He swung before the ball was halfway to home plate.
“Give me that there bat,” Red stormed, stomping over to home plate.
Red hit my first pitch. The ball sailed clear over Mel’s head, and Red charged for first base. But he was so wobbly in his high-heeled boots that he wasn’t very fast. And halfway there, his spurs got caught in his chaps and he fell flat on his face. Mel snatched the ball and threw it to first before Red could untangle himself.
A wiry little fellow named Flaco was the next batter. He got two strikes, then connected on the third pitch. He would have had a double had he not been packing his guns, chaps, and spurs. To make matters worse, he stepped into a prairie dog hole and took a tumble worse than Red’s.
The game was never close. We Mormon boys took our turn at bat and hardly missed a pitch. Those cowboys chased all over the field, stepping in prairie dog holes and getting their spurs tangled in the grass, their chaps, or each other. In frustration, some of them started to cuss.
“Nobody’s allowed to cuss when we play,” Willie Flake called out, feeling suddenly brave. “If you cuss, we have to go home.”
Chappy started to protest, but Red growled, “Hush up, Chappy. They have us down by fifteen runs. I ain’t losin’ to any Church-going city boys.”
We ended up beating the Hashknife Cowboys by a good twenty points. The score might have been closer if they hadn’t been determined to play with every bit of their gear.
Two days later, we boys were down at the church playing ball again. Red, Chappy, and their buddies rode up. “We came for a rematch,” Red declared, tying off his horse to a juniper tree. Frowning, he unbuckled his gun belt, hung it in the tree, and pulled off his chaps. “You others do the same,” he ordered.
Grumpily Chappy stripped off his gun belt and chaps. “I ain’t playing without my spurs, though,” he growled. “I’d feel undressed without ’em.”
This time we beat them by only eight runs. They still had a hard time racing around the bases in their boots and spurs, but they were getting better at dodging prairie dog holes. We had to remind them about cussing, because they kept slipping.
“You won’t ever beat us as long as you cuss,” Heber taunted Red with a grin.
The following Saturday afternoon, they were back. “Today we’re going to beat you!” Red declared. Turning to his buddies, he roared, “The first one of you boneheads that lets slip a cuss word is going to walk back to camp in your stocking feet!”
That day the game was a terrible fight. After six innings, the score was 10 to 9, our favor. The cowboys had two outs. Flaco was on second, and Chappy was up to bat. Although sometimes the cowboys had to almost bite off the end of their tongues, they had managed to play the whole game without a single cuss word. I wound up and burned my battered ball over home plate. Chappy reared back and smacked it with all his might, and it exploded in a dozen different directions. Uncle Rupert’s championship baseball was history.
Muttering bitterly the cowboys rode out of town. “I guess that’s the end of baseball with the Hashknife Cowboys,” Mel complained. “I was getting so I kind of liked them. I think they liked us, too.”
Three days later, I trotted out of the barn and almost bumped into three horses. Red, Chappy, and Flaco were frowning down at me. “So you’re hiding out here, slopping the hogs,” Chappy snarled. “You Mormons flat cheated us last time.”
“Cheated?” I protested. “We don’t have to cheat to beat you!”
“You didn’t finish the game,” Flaco snapped. “It’s the same thing.”
“You busted our ball to powder and string.”
Red reached inside his shirt and pulled out a brand-new white leather baseball with bright red lacing. “You have one now,” he growled. “Chappy rode all the way to Holbrook to buy it.” Then all three of those cowboys busted out in big grins as Red tossed me the ball.
Staring down at the smooth ball, I could smell the new leather. “M-Mine?” I stammered.
“It is if you and your city buddies can beat us. But we pick up right where we left off. The rest of our boys are at the churchyard warming up.”
The cowboys beat us that afternoon, but Red still let me keep the baseball—on condition that whenever the Hashknife Cowboys came to town, we’d let them play.
“We will ‘stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.’ …
“Standing as a witness in all things means being kind in all things, being the first to say hello, being the first to smile, being the first to make the stranger feel a part of things, being helpful, thinking of others’ feelings. …
“Our Heavenly Father does bless us when we show our love for Him in all things.”
Margaret D. Nadauld
Young Women General President
(See Ensign, May 2000, page 93.)