With a little bit of luck and a fortuitous lack of those annoying robo-sales calls we’ll be sleeping late today, because they’ll be playing games down at the local baseball park until the wee hours of the next morning and we’d hate to a missing an inning of it. One of the cultural advantages of living here in Wichita, Kansas, along with the Cassatt and the three Hoppers and the Eakins and the other masterpieces over at the Wichita Art Museum, and the odd strain of punk and country that infuses the music in the local dives, and the surprising amount of talent in the various local theatrical groups, and the relatively cheap rents that foster a fertile bohemian subculture that defies the town’s rather staid and conservative reputation, and Koch Industries and ‘Shocker basketball and the the rest of the right-wing conspiracies that bolster our crazy reputation, is the “around the clock baseball” tradition at the annual National Baseball Congress.
The National Baseball Congress is more or less the world championship of semi-professional baseball, and has been ever since the darkest days of the Great Depression when a wily sporting goods salesman named Ray “Hap” Dumont started it up in the old Island Stadium that once flourished in the middle of the Arkansas River. To help draw the business of the impoverished locals he offered the grand sum of one thousand dollars to to the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, who was at the time the best hurler of any color in the business, and who gratefully accept the offer and temporarily abandoned his Negro League team and mowed down the semi-professional competition with such ease that his pitching records still stand in the NBC books to this day, and the gimmick worked well enough to lead to another tournament and now an 84th one. Since then the old Island Stadium, which was somehow exempt from the local blue laws and able to sell beer even on the Sunday games, has burned down, according to local legend because of some smoker’s carelessly tossed cigarette, but to this very day the games still go on at the elegant and now aged Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the river from downtown, named in honor of some bearded Civil War-era town founder and “Hap” Dumont, and one of its enduring gimmicks is to play baseball once a year until the sun rises.
Whatever benighted city you happen to live in probably doesn’t afford the privilege of watching red-blooded young American men from unknown small towns playing the great game of baseball long after the bars have closed, but be assured that you’re missing out on quite a spectacle. This year’s NBC has already provided some Hollywood-scripted baseball, with the Wellington, Kansas, Heat notching a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Cyclones with a walk-off single in the bottom in the bottom of the ninth inning after a ferocious pitchers’ duel, and Kansas’ Liberal Beejays, which despite your unseeingly assumptions was not named in honor of the of the Clinton administration, scoring a “run rule” win over Rush Limbaugh’s hometown Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Capahas by a “run rule” 23-2 after five innings. The now-familiar “run rule” was invented by the National Baseball Congress, by the way, and is sometimes known as the “Wichita rule,” so the entertaining but anti-climactic result had a certain appeal to baseball traditionalists. We expect more great baseball early tomorrow morning, along with all the usual color.
Some years ago we we were witness to a game involving one of the usual Alaska entries, whose bullpen admitted to us during a casual conversation along the first base line that they were disturbed by the 4 a.m. heat, and when a foul ball popped out of the glove of a 12-year-old fan there were hearty boos by the remaining and pajama-clad fans. There’s nothing in baseball quite so gratifying as hearing a couple hundred die-hard fans booing a 12-year-old at four in the morning, and our occasional treks to the major league parks have never topped that. One of the local convenience store chains is offering one-dollar tickets to it all, too, and despite the inflated beer prices it’s even a better entertainment bargain than Netflix. That will be hard to top, but we’ll seated in the smoking section with a couple of wizened cigar-chomping buddies of ours, and we’ll be wearing our trademark straw fedora, and every picture we’ve ever seen of “Hap” Dumont shows him with a hat atop his head and cigar in his mouth, and despite the recent prominence of Ultimate Fighting and NASCAR and the National Football League this is still the national pastime, and we expect something great will happen here in Wichita in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
— Bud Norman