The K-K-K-K-K-King

It was one of those easily buried, three-graph obit stories two weekends ago. Perhaps you saw it: “‘The King’ of Softball dies at 81.”

“The King” was Eddie Feigner a legendary pitcher who barnstormed the country for some 50 years with his four-man team, “The King and His Court,” taking on all comers. With his 104-mph fastball, pinpoint control, a few trick pitches, and gimmicks that included a blindfold, he didn’t need more than a catcher, first baseman and roving fielder. The Walla Walla, Wash., native threw 930 no hitters and 238 perfect games and totaled more than 141,000 strikeouts. He was also a helluva hitter – and always used a short, billy club-like bat.

In a nationally televised exhibition against major leaguers in 1964, he struck out – in order – Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills, Harmon Killebrew, Roberto Clemente and Brooks Robinson.

And in 1970 he struck out me.

As a young teacher — and baseball coach — in Bristol Township, Pa., I was asked to help fill out a squad that was going to play “The King and His Court” at Woodrow Wilson High School of Levittown, just outside of Philadelphia. I had heard of “The King,” but not enough to be intimidated. My first miscalculation.

It was a night game. The crowd, including a number of my students, was standing-room only and probably 25-deep in the outfield. I hit eighth, and the seven guys in front of me, including former minor leaguers, ex-college players and a couple of current high school hot shots, all struck out. One while Feigner was blindfolded. Another when Feigner pitched from – second base. Contact of any kind, including foul tips, was applauded. A serious foul ball warranted a cheer. The animated home plate ump seemed to be playing along and appeared to enjoy punching out hitter after hitter to the delight of the pumped-up crowd.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was that traumatic.

Feigner doffed his cap and showed a crew cut that would have done Roger Maris proud. He smiled and held up the ball as if to say “This is as good a look at you’re going to get.”

I decided not to swing at the first pitch – no matter where it was – and hoped it was a ball. Then I would be better able to gauge the speed, and fans would think I had exercised a good batter’s “eye.”

Windmill windup. Release. Zzzzzz. THUMP. “STEE-rike one.” I never saw it. It was a blur. He didn’t let up on the number 8 hitter. Thanks for the respect.

New strategy. Don’t just stand there; swing.

Windmill windup. Release. Zzzz–Begin swing–zz. THUMP. “STEE-rike two.” I swear I had barely begun my swing when the catcher was tossing it back to Feigner. Fans laughed.

Amended strategy. Begin to swing AS he was releasing. Hope he hits you in the bat.

Windmill windup. Release. Swing. THUMP. “STEE-rike three.” Never heard it; never saw it. As I turned, the crowd began howling. I pivoted around to see Feigner holding the ball aloft with a toothy grin. It had never left his hand. I had swung and missed a real phantom pitch. The catcher had loudly pounded his mitt and the ump bellowed “STEE-rike three.” That’s show biz.

That was the “King and His Court.”

And his jester.

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