How do softballs get so hard?

A smashing tale

Out in front of Dorm 11 is a strip of grass maybe 30 feet wide, and a couple of hundred feet long. In the shadow of Harrington Hall, it is not the ideal spot to play softball. That would be beyond the E.V. Adams band hall and out on the old bonfire field where softball could be played for hours without any windows getting broken. However, it is a funny world we live in. As an example of this, there is the fact that this strip of grass adjacent to our dorm gets converted every spring into softball central. This is all the more curious when the risks are taken into account. In my four years at A&M, I personally, with my own eyes, witnessed 47 (that's right, 47) windows get shattered into millions of pieces by softballs originating from reckless players who had to play softball right outside. That means that there were likely at least three times that many broken that I didn't see in that same period of time.

Now I know what you are thinking. Why, if everyone knew the windows get broke all the time, would these bozos play softball next to their own dormitory? Well, as it turns out, there is a simple explanation. Girls. You see, women liked walking by the Aggie Band dorm from the parking garage to the civilian quad dorms. These women tended to be quad queens anyway (that is, women who are dying to date a guy in uniform - one of A&M's finest), so they were receptive to macho displays of manliness. So there you have it. That was the fundamental motive. And it kept us on that stupid grassy strip. Every spring. As I recall, there would normally be 10 guys or so. A pitcher, a hitter, and 8 outfielders. About 90% of the time, it would be a regular hit. The other 10% would hook right or hook left. When they hooked right, they would usually hit Duncan dining hall. And Duncan had huge windows. But they were tough windows. I never saw a single Duncan window break even when the softball hit them square. They would make a reverberating thud, and buckle a little, but they would never break.On the other hand, if the ball was hooked left, it would hit the dorm. Only about 25% of the dorm was windows, and the windows only got hit about 10% of the time when the ball was hooked left, and they would sometimes survive if hit at a ricochet angle. But if they were hit square, they were history.

So this brings me to the funniest instance of window fatality I can recall. It was the spring of '93, and I was a senior. Our class was on its final leg in the band. And one of B-Company's finest, Nader Baha, was very confident. He was a bugle rank member. More than 1st platoon leader, he was XO too. Not that I'm bitter about this. Lots of guys got to hold two positions at once. And Nader was Mr. buff. He couldn't possibly wear a shirt to play softball and deprive all those women from seeing what a hunk he was. I could sugarcoat here, but I am just calling this story as I saw it unfold. So Nader hits a couple of high pitches as grounders to the outfielders. And then he belts a high fly ball to center field. Intermixed were a couple of pitches that hit the ground before they got to the plate (this was normal). I had a great view of events since we were playing basketball nearby, but were between games, and resting a bit. So then came the perfect pitch. Nader saw it, and reacted. The bat smacked the softball with a resounding crack, and the ball was hit square. But Nader had been a bit eager, and swung early. The result was that the swing was almost complete when he smacked the ball, and that meant that he hooked it to his left. Everyone held their breath whenever a ball was hit at the dormitory, and then let it out when it safely hit a wall. But this ball was destined for a window. And it nailed a window on the first floor. The ironic thing was that it was Nader's window. He broke the window to his own room. And the worst of it was that the windows was open to let in the outside air, and so he broke both panes of glass. It was a nasty hit that wrote havoc on his own room. I'd love to say I was sympathetic, but in that cruel Aggie Band kind of way, I thought it was downright hilarious.

Now I would love to be able to say that I myself was impervious to this rash foolishness. But alas, I too had my own spectacular incident on record. And mine was unique. Unlike any of the other's I had ever seen. More expensive though. No, I didn't break one of those invincible Duncan windows. I would have been bragging if I had, in spite of dishing out hundreds of dollars. No, it was far more annoying. Me and Kirk Feuerbacher were out playing catch. We weren't even hitting the softball. Now, as fortune would have it, a campus cop had parked in front of the dormitory. This was unusual because the quadrangle, with its wide sidewalks, can support automobile traffic, but it is illegal to drive on the quad. Except for the police. So this officer had parked on the quad in front of the dorm. And the car was not far away. So me and Kirk were throwing the softball back and forth, and then I threw a simulated fly ball straight up into the air. It flew high, and with a graceful arc. And it came down on the police cruiser's windshield. Needless to say, softballs break windshields too. I can personally attest to the veracity of this claim. It was beautiful too. The cruiser had shatterproof glass, so the windshield had not broken all over. It stayed together in fact. But the result was spectacular. I could look and see the softball within held suspended two feet inside of the plane where the windshield used to exist. And the shatterproof glass was broken into a lovely vortex of circles that all culminated at the softball held suspended inside the car. It was a truly unique spectacle. One I could have lived without seeing. But if I had to break an expensive piece of glass, at least it was pretty. Naturally, I was forced to fess up, but I hold the cop partially responsible for parking where he should not have parked. So goes the life and times of quadrangle living. And I am certain that members of the Aggie Band to this day fall victim to the same cycle of foolishness that has been striking bandsmen for as long as women have walked by longing to be impressed by young studs playing softball.

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Copyright © Richard Hay 1998