A Wonderful World

The most significant no-hitter in my life was a real one, thrown in 1975 against the West Branch Bears.  It was covered in the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s sports section with the headline “Kisner, Defense top Bears.”

High school baseball in Iowa is played in the early summer, a fairly unique arrangement (I think just one other state does this) that sometimes forces a senior to choose between full employment and taking a final curtain.  As for me, there was the added friction of feeling under-appreciated by Coach Lantz.  It was one thing to no longer take the field every day, like I did in Little League & Babe Ruth when not pitching, but now I found myself the #3 on the staff.  This meant that on weeks with rain-outs I might not play at all.  Ultimately, I decided to stick with it and came to appreciate the oddity of Iowa summer ball because it extended my connection to school and team for six weeks after graduation.  College would come soon enough.

My no-hitter was pitched on the road, and for travel purposes the setting (West Branch, birth place of Herbert Hoover, our 31st president) might as well have been the dark side of the moon.  Suffice to say that there was no crowd of Regina fans asking for autographs after the game!  It also had a whimper of an ending (not a bang); I was standing on third base under a steady rain when the umps decided to call it a game in the top of the 6th. 

In that headline in the local paper, a share of the credit went to the defense.  Deservedly so.  I was what you might now call a “pitch to contact” guy.  The joke was that my deliveries didn’t have natural sink, it was more a case of them moving so slow that gravity did the real work.  The wags were right, up to a point, but let me just say that pitching is an art form that doesn’t always correlate to speed guns and other metrics.  Anyway, on this particular day my ball was wiggling more than normal, which also led to quite a few walks (normally a pitcher’s doom) but luck was with me, in that the next guy up would hit a rocket right at Mike Wombacker (SS),  Jim Jensen (CF), or Barney Neppel (RF), who would take care of the rest.  Rain-shortened and saved by a few web-gems, my masterpiece might deserve an asterisk in the record-books, but it was a no-hitter nonetheless.  I’ll take it.

Any drive to West Branch was significant to me in 1975, in part because the world of a kid growing up in Iowa City was so small.  It was more than just travel; mine was a white, homogenized childhood, one in which I rarely had to confront racial or religious differences. 

But in 1968, the adult world was staring racism in the face.  Martin Luther King met a bullet on April 4th, triggering riots in places like Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, and Washington, DC.  Some Americans were brought together in this turbulent era by Louis Armstrong, popular among all races, and with this in mind he recorded the song “What A Wonderful World.”  It was a flop in the US, but reached #1 on the UK charts in 1968.  I wouldn’t have know Louis Armstrong (jazz) from  Louis Vuitton (fashion) back then, but fortunately another cultural force was moving me toward a broader understanding and acceptance of people who looked (or talked) differently: the mania for sports in general and collecting baseball cards in particular.  Skin didn’t matter when negotiating to swap an extra Robinson: Bill, Brooks, Floyd, and Frank were just ballplayers to us kids.


The Pirates were essentially just a random choice for a favorite team, but having made that choice I opened myself up to a team known for its connections in Latin America.  By the time I heard Clemente speak his broken English, or show a smile that seemed an extra shade of white contrasted against the dark skin, he had already become a hero of mine.  I didn’t even mind being planted out in RF (where they always put the young guys in Little League), because I wanted nothing so much as the chance to throw a runner out at home.  In a different era, everyone would want to ‘be like Mike’ but back in ’68 this kid wanted to be Roberto Clemente.  And I thought to myself what a wonderful world.

Sorry about the long ramble.  I really will cover the other hitters on the Ames squad next time!

© John Kisner 2019