You never know what might happen when you go to cover a vintage base ball game. Early in the second game of the Babies' two-game slate, one of the "cranks" (fans) rooting for the Houston team was overwhelmed by the day's crushing heat, causing one of the players to leave the game to render assistance. I was suddenly handed a uniform and pressed into service against the Boerne White Sox. I kicked off my flip-flops and joined the fray barefoot, thus earning myself two nicknames: "Shoeless John" Lomax and "Forrest," the latter of which seemed to stick.
Since the player I replaced was standing on second base at the time, I was thrown right into the thick of the game. A couple of base hits later, I had crossed the plate and was high-fiving my teammates, but soon their joy turned to horror when it came to light that I had forgotten to ask the Blind Tom for permission to register the tally. I went back out and bowed and scraped, and the Blind Tom grudgingly rang the bell and the tally was chalked up.
Once our side was retired, I was sent to right field. I immediately forgot that I was playing in some kind of historical re-enactment. It was all baseball all the way — remembering to back up first and trying to focus on what base to throw to should the ball come my way.
My first turn at bat came an inning or so later, and, hacking at the first pitch, I launched a pop-up between second and center field that bounced twice before anyone could snag it. Though it was a feeble strike, my teammates said it would look just as good as a "stinger" in the box score. I scored another run, but after my next turn at-bat, after reaching first on a fielder's choice, I lost track of the arcane base-running rules and ran my way into an unnecessary out. The bases were loaded and I was on third with one out. One of my teammates rapped a grounder that the second-baseman snagged on one hop, thus retiring the batter immediately. Hard-wired by years of modern baseball thinking, I thought I was being forced home and took off with all my aging legs and lungs could give me, only to get caught in a run-down and tagged out. Under these rules, there was no force-out and I should have remained standing on third.
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I would further fail to cover myself in glory when I played an inning at first base. Kenneth Bergmann, Boerne's septuagenarian star hitter, cracked a hard grounder right at me that bounced off my chest. Had I recorded that out, it would have eventually prevented two runs from scoring. (Later in the same inning, in blocking an errant throw from an infielder, I got my first vintage base ball war wound: a bruised palm.)
Press photographer Daniel Kramer obligingly captured that miscue on video for perpetuity, and soon enough, he too was drafted into the field of play. Like me, he ran into a double play, but unlike me, he also started one from the field, one that ended the game no less.
On his Pecan Park Eagle blog, Houston Babies general manager and chronicler Bill McCurdy was kind enough to look past our blunders and my grievous breach of etiquette (though he also attributed Kramer's double play to a teammate) and summed up our contributions thusly:
"Writer John Lomax and photographer Danny Kramer, both of The Houston Press, were also on hand Saturday in preparation for a feature story on vintage base ball that they are planning for their paper this coming summer. Along the way, the reporters accepted our invitation to suit up and play for the Babies in Game Two. For those of you who are wondering about professional boundaries disappearing here, forget about it. This was not the first time The Houston Press has demonstrated its ability to take sides."