One of the greatest moments in sports history that I’ve experienced took place on a Little League baseball
It can be summed up in five words: “Duke’s going to do it.”
Duke was Duke Ankney.
He played on a Little League team I coached. He stood out among the others on the team, not because he was taller or built bigger (he actually was a few inches shorter and many pounds smaller than most) — but because he was so fidgety and could never sit still. Duke was the type of player who would show up for a game in a perfectly clean uniform and, within five minutes, would have it looking like his mother never owned a washing machine.
I can think of only a handful of 12-year-old boys who loved playing baseball as much as Duke, and even fewer who had as big of a fixation with the Big Red Machine — otherwise known as the Cincinnati Reds.
Pete Rose. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, David Concepcion … you name them. Duke not only knew all of their batting averages, but he could mimic how they walked and talked.
That summer of 1977 found our Little League team in a battle for first place. The season was more than half over when we squared off against our rival on one of the hottest, most humid days of summer. We were undefeated and they had just one loss — to us, earlier in the season. They were out for revenge and despite the sticky weather, a large crowd showed up to watch.
Duke batted lead off for us and we were up first. As he walked up to the plate, I could hear someone on our team say, “Duke’s going to do it.”
“Do what!,” I fired back.
“The Joe Morgan,” came the reply.
Sure enough, Duke was doing a perfect imitation of Joe Morgan as he stepped up to the plate, tugging on his uniform and defiantly staring at the pitcher through squinted eyes. I was ready to yell at Duke to quit screwing around, but it was too late. The pitcher let loose with a smoking, belt-high fastball. Duke twice flapped his back elbow up and down, a la Joe Morgan, and the next thing we knew the ball was rocketing over the right-fielder’s head. As Duke bolted around second base, our third-base coach was waving him home (as if Duke was going to stop anyway). Duke easily beat the throw to the plate, but still did a perfect hook slide to complete his home run and dirty his uniform.
Our bench went wild. The other team slumped.
“Duke did it.”
We went on to score four runs that inning, winning the game, 7-2, and finished the year in first place with an 18-0 record — the first Little League team in Defiance to go undefeated.
At the end of the year, we celebrated by taking our team to Riverfront Stadium to see the Reds play. After climbing to the last few rows of the red section, where our seats were located, we dutifully took a head count. You guessed it, we were minus one player.
“Where’s Duke,” we cried out. A couple teammates then informed us that Duke said he was going to slip away and get some autographs.
Sure enough, one of the fathers with a pair of U.S. Army binoculars spotted Duke. He was among a cluster of fans near the Cincinnati Reds dugout, elbowing his way toward the front row. One player did walk over to the group to sign a few autographs. It was No. 8 — Joe Morgan.
I couldn’t help but think of Duke when news broke last week that Morgan had passed away at age 77. Baseball lost a great one. A true all-star who played with a passion for the Cincinnati Reds.
And on one hot summer day in Northwest Ohio, that passion showed up in a Little Leaguer as he stepped up to the plate in a very big game.
“Duke’s going to do it” — and he did.
ROSES AND THORNS: A Ford F-150 finds a spot to park in the rose garden.
Rose: Ford Director of Manufacturing Mark Felix sung the praises of the Lima Engine Plant during his visit to the Bible Road facility on Thursday. The plant makes 36% of F-150 engines and has built 44 million engines since its opening in 1957. It now employs roughly 1,500 people and recently started production for the latest version of the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine for the forthcoming 2021 F-150. That vehicle will feature a new onboard generator system that the company boasts can power a tailgating party or construction site.
Rose: To Ava Long, a sophomore at Elida High School. She is among a group of students across Ohio to have their art work displayed in the annual Ohio House of Representatives Student Art Exhibit in Columbus.
Rose: To Nancy Carter, of Wapakoneta. She had her idea featured in the nationally syndicated comic strip “Pluggers.”
Rose: To the Lima Kiwanis Club. It made a check presentation to Hellen Douglas of Family Promise extra special by inviting Lima firefighter Matt Hammons to attend. In 2018, Hammons entered the second floor of a fully-engulfed burning building to rescue Douglas’ 6-year-old grandson.
Thorn: Halloween thrill-seekers have descended on the former Lima Tuberculosis Hospital, causing police to step up patrols of the area. Last week the Lima Police Department reported that 586 individuals had trespassed at the site over the previous 30 days.
Thorn: For some unknown reason, Phillip Royce Andrey drove his pickup truck into the pond at Westview Park at Fairground Road in Celina.
PARTING SHOT: “There’s a difference between being tough and being mean, and mean never works.” — the late Lima Central Catholic coach and teacher, Paul Greene
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.