I started playing baseball when I was 7 years old. My father took me up to the Darlington baseball diamond and signed me up for Farm League. I knew absolutely nothing about the game, and Darlington's famous coach, Marion "Runt" Maxwell, asked me what position I played. I looked around at the other players and told him, "I bat."
Well, as it turned out, there was a position that I did like . . . pitching. Batting was fun, but striking out other players was much more entertaining. I controlled the situation, and also controlled the rhythm of the game. My teammates depended on me to keep the score low, and I depended on them to get enough runs to win.
Since we usually only had practice once or twice a week, I practiced a lot at home. If there was no one around to play catch with, I would draw a circle on the barn and literally spend hours throwing as hard as I could, trying to see how many times in a row I could hit that circle. I tried to imitate the famous pitchers at that time . . . Warren Spahn, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and several others. I threw directly overhand, sidearm, and three-quarter motion. I even tried the submarine pitch, but found that it was more difficult to control. I had one pitch . . . the fastball, and I was pretty successful with it. When I pitched, we won most of our games.
But in the span of a few years, the other teams became used to my fastball, and it became less effective. I had to come up with another pitch, so I developed a curveball. I tried holding the ball the way the coach instructed me, but just could not get the ball to curve that much. I then developed my own method where I held my index and middle finger on the narrow part of the seams and placed my thumb very low. After practicing this many times, I could throw what is referred to as a "roundhouse curve." The ball would start out toward the batter, who would likely back off the plate, thinking the ball was going to hit him. As he backed out, the ball would curve back over the plate for a strike. Since the batter never knew what pitch I was going to throw, I could usually keep them off balance, and I could record a lot of strikeouts in a game. 
However, there were three players on the county that I always had trouble with. They would not back off the plate when I threw the curveball . . . because they didn't care if the ball hit them or not! Those players were Phil Winger of Linden, Rusty Weaver of Waveland, and Ron Haffner of New Ross. They were all terrific hitters, and they stood right in the batter’s box and took their swings. Phil Winger was a switch hitter, one of the few I ever faced, so he would just switch over and bat left-handed against me. Rusty Weaver could hit anything I threw in his direction. Ron Haffer would just dig in and swing at everything. If the ball hit him, he would just shake it off and jog down to first base with a walk and a big smile on his face.
After studying a few more Major League pitchers, I discovered that one famous pitcher, Hoyt Wilhelm, threw a pitch called the knuckleball. The knuckleball is a slow pitch with no spin, and it travels in an erratic and unpredictable motion. A pitcher is supposed to hold the ball a certain way, but I developed another method which seemed more effective. I practiced this new pitch for hours, and I believed it would work. The ball appeared to wobble as it approached the plate, especially if the wind was blowing toward the mound. I decided that was the pitch I would use against Ron Haffner in our next game against New Ross.
The Blue Jays were a tough team to beat, but I was confident I could strike them out . . . now with three pitches, my fastball, my curveball and my knuckleball.
I was wrong.
My arm was sore that day from baling hay all week. My fastball wasn't so fast. There was no curve in my curveball. New Ross scored at will. It was embarrassing. The New Ross pitcher was having no luck either, so my team was keeping up in the run department, but I just could not prevent the Blue Jays from scoring runs. 
Ron Haffner came up to the plate. It was time for my knuckleball pitch. He dug in the batter’s box with his spikes, waiting to hit my fastball or curveball. But I fooled him . . . I threw my knuckleball.
I can honestly say that I have NEVER seen anyone hit a ball so far in my life. Ron Haffner hit that knuckleball pitch into orbit. I stood there in amazement as the ball soared over my head and disappeared into the stratosphere, sailing over the centerfield fence and landing in Doc Otten's cow pasture! As he rounded the bases, he looked at me and smiled the smile of pure contentment.
That the was first . . . and the only . . . knuckleball that this Darlington pitcher ever attempted. That afternoon I learned that sometimes things just don't go as planned – a good lesson to learn, especially in today's world. On that day 55 years ago, I learned that I was not a knuckleball pitcher . . . just a plain old knucklehead.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.