Greatness measured in nanoseconds

Written by Bob on July 15th, 2009

WANAMINGO, MN – Oh, how I was jealous of him in my high school years. He had athletic ability, and he was smart. Oh so smart – especially on the ball diamond, football field, and basketball court.

I had little of the afore mentioned qualities that separate the good from the great. But blond haired, blue-eyed Grant Hoven had both.

Now 42 years later, I recently stumbled upon a picture of Grant while researching old Wanamingo area news from the now defunct Wanamingo Progress at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

The pictured showed Grant ready to launch a jump shot. The year was 1967. The picture highlighted an article about Grant breaking the all-time Wananmingo High School basketball scoring record with 961 points.

So what separates an athlete – such as Grant – from the rest of the athletic pack? After all at about 5-foot-9 with good, but not blazing speed, and of modest jumping ability, Grant wasn’t showered with an over abundance of physical gifts.

What then made him special? Nanosecond thinking.

Grant and athletes like him have that special ability to make decisions very, very quickly. While the rest of us are still thinking about what to do, athletes such as Grant have already made the play.

During my fastpitch softball career, I’ve been privileged to have played with some very fine ball players – Teddy Dominguez, Ron Quinn, and Jeff Nessler will be remembered as three of the best in my book. They, like Grant, weren’t blessed with exceptional physical abilities such as foot or bat speed, size or physical strength.

But all three were exceptionally intelligent athletes. Exceptionally quick-thinking athletes.

Let’s start with Teddy. The stocky left-handed hitting outfielder played with the Lakewood Jets and Lancaster Chameleons during the heyday of the Western Softball Congress in Southern California.

Teddy had this uncanny ability to wait on the ball. Regardless of how fast the pitch, Teddy seemingly followed the ball almost into the catcher’s glove before deciding if the pitch was a ball or strike and whether or not to swing or keep the bat back. Even though he waited and waited, and waited some more, Teddy still had the lightning-quick thinking to judge the pitch a ball or strike, and the timing and power to drive the ball.

Ron Quinn was the best catcher that I’ve ever chucked a ball to. Ron was of average height, speed, and arm strength. But squatting behind the plate, Ron was a mastermind. He remembered every hitter’s weakness and strength. I never doubted his pitch selection when he flashed his fingers signaling he wanted either the rise, drop, or change up. And I never doubted the location where Ron set his glove.

I once asked him how he remembered so many hitters. How he decides what pitch and where to throw it to each and every batter we faced.

“I watch where they set up in the box, where their hands are, their body language, and how they swing the bat,” he said.

“But how do you do all that and still catch the ball?” I asked.

“It’s all done at once physically and mentally,” he said. Ron made it sound easy, but never have I had a catcher call and catch a game like Ron Quinn. He once said: “You just throw the ball and let me do the thinking.”

Jeff Nessler played shortstop for one of the finest ball clubs in the U.S. back in the 1970s and ‘80s when the great Mankato team was a frequent qualifier in ASA and ISC national tournaments.

Jeff had average foot speed, good bat speed, and a good glove. Although those skills can make for a very good ball player, it doesn’t constitute greatness.

But the ability to think and react in a split-second, Jeff – as with Grant, Teddy, and Ron – had that innate gift in abundance.

A gift that the some of us can only wish we had. With a bit of jealousy, I might add.

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