Karl Lindholm: Spaceman, Lake Monsters, and bliss

FORMER BOSTON RED Sox and Montreal Expo pitcher Bill Lee, a longtime Craftsbury resident, smiles with Jane Lindholm, daughter of Lee’s friend and Independent columnist Karl Lindholm.

This week’s column is written in a similar spirit to those of the other sports columnist, the angler, who takes us to lakes, ponds, and streams through sylvan glades to his favorite fishing spots.

He describes with precise detail the bliss he feels casting his line in the water, surrounded as he is by the austere beauty of the natural world.

I don’t fish but I know his bliss: I get mine at baseball games.

I go to a lot of games and watch the Red Sox on TV, but in my dotage I find attending major league games kinda wears me out — the crowds, the hassle, the noise, the expense. 

I have been to minor league games this year in Portland, Maine (the Sea Dogs, the Red Sox AA team), and Worcester (the WooSox, the Red Sox AAA team): beautiful parks, not a bad seat in the house.

Minor league baseball: “The baseball’s good, the parking’s free, and the beer’s cold.”

I try not to miss any Middlebury College games. Alas, this 2021 class of Panther baseball players lost two seasons to the pandemic. Imagine their disappointment.

This summer, baseball is back, and I’m a happy man.

I had a perfect baseball day just a week ago, on Sunday, July 11. I went to two of my favorite local “fishing” holes and it was good fishing indeed.

I got a call from old friend Bill Lee, who related that he and his team in the Vermont Senior Baseball League, the Burlington Cardinals, were playing a game at the Charlotte Berry Farm that Sunday at 11:00 am.

You are forgiven if you didn’t know there was a field at the Charlotte Berry Farm on Route 7, as there’s no sign. Just keep going down the dirt road past the farmstand and there it is — a Vermont version of a Field of Dreams.

Bill was pitching against the Chelsea Bat Company, a good team with a 5-1 record, the same as the Cardinals. The day was hot, muggy in the 80s, a good day for baseball. I played a few years in the senior league, but aged out. It’s an over-35 wood-bat league (must be 45 to pitch).

For the uninitiated, Bill Lee pitched 14 years in the Major Leagues, 10 for the Red Sox and four for the Montreal Expos, both starting and in relief, won 119 games, was an All-Star, and is in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

He earned the nickname “Spaceman,” and an enormous following, for his counterculture nature and ways in the turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. He moved to Craftsbury, Vt., in 1988 and has remained based there. He has never stopped pitching.

He’s 74 years old.

On this hot day, Bill pitched into the 8th inning and gave up one earned run and left with a 3-2 lead. He doesn’t throw hard, but with that rocking chair motion, he throws a variety of pitches that keeps hitters off balance, including the “Leephus” pitch, a high arching slowball that he used to good effect in the big leagues.

Like Satchel Paige, his best pitch is a “bat-dodger.”

I assumed a position standing at the low fence next to the dugout, close enough to the action to see the break on the curveball. In about the third inning, I felt a tug at my shirt, and there was my elfin four-year old granddaughter, Carys, who had come to the game with her mom.

There were perhaps 25 people at the game, family members in lawn chairs on the hill next to the field. Carys quickly found children her age to play with. I watched the game with Jane, my daughter, bantered with Bill and his teammates, and enjoyed a kind of multi-generational field of dreams experience.

Ballyard bliss.

Later that same day, in the early evening, I went to another baseball game, this time to watch young guys play, the Lake Monsters of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, at Centennial Field in Burlington.

A particular attraction of this game was that the Lake Monsters opponent, the New Britain Bees, was a team with a genuine Middlebury College connection. The Bees are owned by Brad Smith, Middlebury ’95 (the son of the late Dale Smith, Midd ’67, my baseball teammate); is managed by Donnie McKillop ’11; and have four Middlebury College players on its roster.

Outfielder Alec Ritch ’22 bats leadoff for the Bees and Alex Price ’22 pitched well the night before for the Bees. Middlebury Coach Mike Phelps was at the game with his family and enjoyed a warm reunion with McKillop after the game.

The Lake Monsters too have an Addison County connection. Wyatt Cameron of New England College (and Salisbury, Vt., and MUHS) came out of the bullpen in this game to pitch the Monsters out of a sixth inning jam on their way to a 5-1 win against the Bees. 

Sometimes it’s fun to go to a game by yourself, to move around at will and chat with folks you may know and others you don’t but with whom you share an affinity for the game. There was a good lively crowd, the park was more than half-full (official attendance — 1740) and had the same wonderful atmosphere we have become accustomed to in the nearly 40 years we’ve had high-level baseball there.

 I was reminded of one of my favorite all-time memories, a night many years ago that ended with a blissful hour at Centennial with my children Jane and David, then about 10 and six.

We were returning after dark from visiting friends in South Hero when we encountered the most spectacular array of Northern Lights I have ever seen, or ever hope to see again. The sky was alight with blues and greens and yellows. We stopped the car and Jane and David lay on the hood and gazed at the sky for a good long time.

As we drove by Burlington on 89, we saw the lights of Centennial — and caught the end of a Vermont Expos game. We sat in the top row of the (then) cement bleachers for the last hour of the game, utterly happy in one another’s company, in a place that warmed our spirits.

At this game a couple Sundays ago, in about the fifth inning, I took a stroll and got a hot dog and a beer. I asked the fresh-faced girl who served me if she were a student. She answered, “I’ll be a senior at Rice.”

With a beautiful smile, she said, “Enjoy the game.”

 “I will,” I responded.

 “I am. Thank you.”

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