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Steve Lang: Remembering Pete Bright

"Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, age don't matter." -- Satchel Paige

Wayne "Pete" Bright died as he lived — actively.

Pete passed away Wednesday, Aug. 28 in a tractor accident near Cyrus, Minn., a couple of weeks after his 84th birthday.

In his lifetime, he survived esophageal cancer and countless enemy bats on the pitcher's mound. An area legend, Pete pitched in amateur baseball leagues for about 60 years, beginning at 15 and finally shutting down at 75. In between baseball games, he farmed, was active in numerous community organizations and boards, and in the winter, played some basketball to stay in condition while waiting for the snow to melt off the ball diamond.

Like the legendary Satchel Paige, Pete would look at a batter's knees, instantly record the weakness and throw the ball to the spot of least retaliation. His basic routine of fastballs high and tight, curve balls low and away accounted for an estimated 300-400 wins and 13 trips to the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Tournament.

To put Pete's lengthy amateur baseball career in perspective, he was drafted to pitch for the Glenwood Falcons state tournament team I played on in 1978 — the same year he was inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. Then, merely 49 years young, he continued to pitch for another 26 years.

Pete threw hard — well into his 40s — and kept opposing batters off-balance for years after that.

As a Cyrus High School senior in 1947, Pete set a record that may be equaled but never bettered. He pitched a perfect game against Alberta High School, striking out all 21 batters in the seven-inning contest.

Twenty years later, Pete's son Don pitched a one-hitter against my Elbow Lake team to win the District 21 championship. That happened on a Friday, and two days later, Pete was probably pitching a game of his own in the Pomme de Terre League.

Although genealogical records were not kept, Pete likely played against three generations of the same families during his lengthy career. Although a serious competitor on the mound, at least one timely quip from the stands cracked him up.

A fellow sportswriter recalled that during a game in the latter stages of Pete's career, a fan called out, "Hey, Pete! What was it like to pitch (a night game) by candlelight?"

Pete's face broke into a smile, he stepped off the mound, his shoulders shaking with convulsive laughter before he got back to business.

Bench-jockeying or "trash talk" as it is now called, is as old as the game itself, but what goes around comes around. The secret to successful bench-jockeying is either backing up your mouth with your actions when returning to the field or staying on the bench.

In my early years, I fancied myself as somewhat of a wit, but my playing skills did not match my verbal ones, and I paid the price. After years of playing at an average level or below, I learned to temper my comments accordingly, as baseball can be an extremely humbling game. Hanging around in the dugout with seasoned veterans like Pete reinforced the axiom that it is not what one says, but when one says it.

Pete and I sat in the dugout during a playoff game, listening to an opposing player trash our team's performance as his club built a lead. An inning or two later, the player advanced to third base, running his mouth faster than his feet. A couple of pitches later, he attempted to score on a short passed ball and was tagged out at home.

Unable to endure the silence any longer, I called out, "What's the matter, dude? Did you trip on your tongue?"

As the crowd joined the dugout in laughter, the opposing manager pulled the player aside and not-so-tactfully instructed him to play with his bat and glove and in silence.

Baseball, recalled our common friend, the late Allen "Shorty" Toop, "is all about the fun you have and the friends you meet."

Because of town team baseball, I met a good friend in Pete Bright.

We last talked by phone around his 80th birthday, when over 200 friends and family members gathered on Pete and Muriel's farm to celebrate.

I have no doubt that the attendance at the celebration of his well-lived life will far exceed that number.

Steve Lang is a former left-handed pitcher whose fastball was timed not with a radar gun, but with an hourglass. Lang also served as editor of the Morris Sun Tribune from 1974 to 1979.