Excerpt from The King and His Court from Issue 66
In 1967, Hoosier sports writers agreed on one thing: Ethan Perdido of Lima, Indian, was the best baseball player in the state. The sports editor for The Lima Journal penned an editorial on Ethan’s behalf: Indiana has a Mr. Basketball. Why not a Mr. Baseball?” It didn’t happen but this revolutionary idea did bear some fruit: Ethan received a full scholarship to play ball at Purdue University. In an interview. Ethan thanked God, his parents, his coaches, and his girlfriend for believing in him. The reporter gleefully noted that Ethan’s teammates had dubbed him “ The Undertaker,” not only for his prowess on the field, but also because he was heir to Lima’s oldest mortuary, the Perdido Funeral Home. “I love baseball,” Ethan said in the article, “but i’ll probably wind beck in Lima eventually to take over the family business.”
To keep himself in shape the summer before he started school, Ethan joined a fast-pitch softball league and played first base for the B&B Grocery Roustabouts. He thought the transition would be easy once the ball was bigger. Quickly, Ethan discovered fast-pitch was tougher than it looked. The distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound was much shorter, for one thing, which threw of his hitting, and since the ball moved differently, his fielding suffered. But after a few weeks, Ethan had his game back, just in time for a match-up between the Roustabouts and the King and His Court, the Harlem Globetrotters of fast-pitch softball.
The King and His Court was born on an afternoon in 1946. A gifted pitcher names Eddie Feigner threw a 33-0 shutout. When the disgruntled losers taunted him, Eddie claimed he could whip them again with just a catcher. “But you’d probably just walk on both,” he mocked, “and then where’d we be?” So he drafted a first baseman and a shortstop and the four-man team still won, 7-0. Eddie declared himself “The King” and took his court on the road like a barnstorming softball circus. The King’s fastball came in at over 100 miles an hour, his curve dropped like an alevator, and he had trick pitches, too: blindfolded, behind the back, between the legs. He threw strikes from second base. His troupe traveled from town to town, taking on all comers. Most nights, the King and His Court went home victorious, and at three bucks a head, a lot richer as well.
But this story isn’t about the King and His Court. It’s not about the difference between baseball and the dying tradition of men’s fast-pitch softball. It’s not about Ethan Perdido and his It’s a Wonderful Life-ish choice between duty to the family and personal dreams. This story is about the girl sitting on a wooden-bleacher throne: Ethan’s girlfriend, Laura Hafstadter.
Laura attended every game her boyfriend played, but not because she especially loved baseball. She went because it was something to do and because she loved Ethan, at least she thought she did. She liked it when people looked at her when Ethan got a hit or made a great play. It made her feel like somebody. The summer he played for the Roustabouts, she became a temporary member of The Softball Wives, the husband-cheering women who dotted the stand of Winnesaw Park. The Softball Wives didn’t care much for Laura. They taught her standoffish, and they resented the way their husband started at the browned belly revealed by her knotted shirts. Laura felt the resentment on their smiles and polite waves but when Ethan asked her why she wouldn’t sit with the other women, she couldn’t find the words to explain.
But the night that the King and His Court played the Roustabouts, Laura was forced to join the Softball Wives in the bleachers. The game had brought out half the town, after all. That day’s edition of The Lima Journal claimed Eddie Feigner was the most underrated athlete of his time. A few month earlier, in an exhibition game with major-league all-stars, Eddie had struck out Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente. In a row: K-K-K-K-K-K.
The stands were packed with sweating bodies. Laura tried hard to keep herself contained, but she couldn’t help but touch the women on either side of her, couldn’t help but wonder how many years away she was from becoming them. Betty Pollard who worked down at the Lima Savings Bank with her, had thighs that spread like dough, and Carol Winters nor a whole river system of varicose veins on her legs. Both women had children, two or three each, although Laura could never count them because they were always racing around chasing foul balls.