Peterson: The sound of a real fastball

The game of baseball has unique sounds of its own.

There is the solid crack of a fastball hitting the bat right in the sweet spot. That sound is known to anyone who has ever played the game and it is usually an indication that a batter will soon be circling the bases.

And there’s the sound of a fastball thunking into the catcher’s mitt. It is perhaps the most intimidating sound in the sport.

Curt Lahti had that kind of fastball when he played for Houghton in the Twilight League.

He was reportedly clocked at just under 90 miles per hour at Cincinnati Reds tryout camp in the early 1960s.

Now, a fastball in that range is not uncommon today where most pitchers can lay claim to heaters well over 95 mph. The best chuckers are usually over 100.

But back in the early days of the Twilight League, a fastball nearing 90 miles per hour was big news.

Lahti was an outstanding athlete at Houghton High School, earning All-U.P. honors in basketball. Along with such standouts as Jon Fryxell and Frank Stipech, he led to the Gremlins into the state semifinals in 1962.

But as a pitcher, the lanky 6-foot-4 Lahti was an imposing sight on the mound.

He had already shut out Toivola and beaten Ahmeek, recording double figures in strikeouts in both games.

My Tapiola squad was next in line that long ago season and we knew exactly what to expect.

Like all speedball pitchers, Lahti was on the wild side and that kept hitters very loose in the batter’s box.

With teammate — and high school friend Art Saarela — at the plate in the second inning, I saw enough to make me nervous as I waited from the on-deck circle.

Saarela was drilled squarely in the back, dropping to the ground like he had been hit by a bullet.

I stepped up next, with my foot squarely in the bucket, and took four high fastballs for a walk.

I managed another base on balls later on, sandwiched between a strikeout — one of 16 Lahti recorded in the game.

We ended losing the game by a 5-1 score and managed just two infield hits. I believe the run came on two walks, a passed ball and a wild pitch.

Personally, I never felt better about collecting two walks without lifting the bat of my shoulder.

We faced Lahti a couple more times that season with about the same luck.

I’ve seen all the best pitchers in the league over the years, but never saw one with the stuff he featured.

And I’ve often wondered over the years whatever happened to Curt Lahti … and his blazing fastball.


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