I'm going to be 54 years old this March. I'm planning on playing fast-pitch softball for another year (if my shoulder doesn't deteriorate completely by the start of the season, a distinct possibility from the way it feels right now.) As if I needed any further reminder of the passage of time, a former teammate has gone home to God.
George Pratt was a pitcher. Beyond that, he was a great competitor and a true gentleman.
(In the collection of softball players pictured above, that's George 4th from the right. More photos will follow, all from the M Street Softball League website.)
I only knew George from my too few interactions with him at the ballpark. There are plenty of other folks - family, co-workers, close friends, teammates for a longer while - who are feeling his loss more deeply than I ever will. However, I can honestly say that I'll miss George. A smile came to my face every time I had a chance to talk to him, and the main reason is that George always greeted me with a smile first. That's how I'll remember him - smiling. It was what he was doing, more often than not.
George was THE dominant pitcher in the M Street Softball League for a couple of seasons. You could click onto his full statistics HERE, but let me quote a bit of stuff that should be amazing to anyone who plays ball.
Year Team W L IP H R ER BB K ERA
2002 Sidewalk Café 21 3 149 167 81 52 33 100 2.44
2003 Sidewalk Café 18 0 133 116 48 37 21 117 1.95
For those not familiar with it, M Street is one of the toughest softball leagues around. So, dig? He went 39 - 3 over the course of those two years, and struck out 217 batters in 282 innings of work. And this is softball we're talking about, and against entire teams full of good hitters. Strikeout totals like that are few and far between. His 2003 year, of 18 - 0 with a 1.95 ERA, was totally unreal. I saw a few of the gems he pitched that year, but I still find the numbers hard to believe. They're the stuff of legend.
Even more impressive, those numbers were put on the board when he was 52 and 53 years old. And he remained a damn good pitcher (12 - 5, 3.95) right through last season, at age 61. His final start was a game in the championships, a 4 - 3 loss in which he went 7 strong innings, giving up just one earned run.
Here is a series of photos of George pitching - getting a sign from his catcher, then his delivery and follow through. I don't know if you can get the sense of speed, or the work he put into each throw, but look at the ball - straight line, blurred, towards the batter - and his rear foot grabbing the dirt violently. Also, note the angle of his arm on the delivery and then the follow through. You can imagine the sort of movement that ball might have had.
I say that I was George's teammate, and I was, but I never had an opportunity to catch him. The one year that I played for Sidewalk Cafe, George was sidelined. And, in the grand scheme of things, George was a star and I'm a scrub. No matter, to him. Any time he saw me, I was an ex-teammate and greeted with as much respect and warmth as if I was his personal catcher and slugged game-winners for him. He was that kind of nice guy.
May God bless his family and friends. He'll be missed.