I’ll never forget the Bobby Ginter Shift, a once-in-a-lifetime maneuver pulled by an opposing coach while playing summer league baseball. I was just 10 years old that summer, the summer of 1986.
It was late June, just when the sun starts scorching everything in sight, leaving behind dried creek beds and dead grass. It seemed the only thing that survived those summer droughts were the young boys playing baseball out in the old field behind Clay City Elementary. With throats begging for just a sip of water (or, preferably, Gatorade), our bodies somehow managed to carry us through inning after long inning, hoping that somebody on the team would gallop across the plate with the winning run.
My team, the Cardinals, had been undefeated through the regular season. Most games hadn’t even been close. We came into the tournament expecting to roll over the competition, but our opponents in the title game, the Cubs, tasted victory.
We had played the late game on Friday, a game against the Rams. Sometime toward the end of that particular game, the groundwork for the Bobby Ginter Shift was laid.
I’m a left-handed hitter, and a dead-pull one at that. I could rope any pitch thrown to me down the right field line. However, I was also able to take a pitch on the outside part of the plate and drive it the opposite way. Such a thing happened that Friday as the pitcher game me an outside pitch, I controlled my swing and smacked it directly down the left field line.
The ball took a couple of bounces before hitting the fence. The outfielders sprinted in that direction, but I was already rounding second, heading toward third, safe with a stand-up triple.
Like any good coach, Cub’s manager Bobby Ginter sat in the stands scouting out the game. He knew what he had to do to defeat the Cardinals. His mind churned, racing for a a special play designed to get an easy out on the toughest bat in the league. There, beneath his mesh cap with a bill folded into a sharp “V”, he came up with one play, to be used only once: the Bobby Ginter Shift.
On Saturday, heading into the top part of the sixth and final inning, the Cubs had a two-run lead on us. They had played an almost perfect game, but momentum was starting to shift, led by a miraculous throw by our right fielder, Shara Means, nailing a runner at the plate.
We had three outs to score three runs and notch our place in the Powell County history books. We wasted no time. Our first batter managed to get on base, eventually scampering his way over to third base. Our second batter that inning hit a line drive back to the pitcher, who threw to third, hoping to pick off the runner. Our player, our only hope at that point, managed to dive back into the base in cloud of dirt. Players from both teams – and the parents watching – waited for the call … “Safe,” yelled the umpire.
The next batter walked, leaving runners at the corners as I headed to the plate. This was every kid’s dream – two runners on base, down by two, with the winning run at the plate. “It all comes down to this,” said Vin Scully, announcing the game in my head.
With the first pitch, the runner on first stole second, eliminating the force play. The Cub’s coach, the aforementioned Bobby Ginter, called time and headed toward the mound. He gathered up his team, reorganizing them into the one play that he just knew would be their saving grace.
The Bobby Ginter Shift began.
The right fielder moved to center, the center fielder moved to left and the left fielder hugged the line, guarding anything that came ripping his way.
Ginter instructed his pitcher to throw to the outside of the plate to make me hit the ball into left field. This set up two problems: first, 10- and 11-year-old pitchers cannot place the ball with any accuracy; and second, this left a gaping hole on the right side of the outfield.
The pitcher wound up and delivered a strike right down the heart of the plate. It looked as big as melon, traveling at such a slow speed I could count the number of seams. The ball tore off my bat with an exploding twang, the result of clean contact with an aluminum bat. The ball rose in the air, higher and farther than any I’d ever hit before. I was on second base by the time the ball landed … just inside the right field line.
The Cubs’ outfielders had no hope in retrieving the ball in time. I was rounding third by the time they touched it, making it home for an uncontested inside-the-park homerun. We had the lead, the momentum and, ultimately, the ballgame.
In the grand scheme of youth league baseball, it was just one play, one game, one league, one summer, by my, what a play it was. It was unforgettable.
Unless you’re Bobby Ginter.