One of the pivotal moments in the movie Field of Dreams occurs when the protagonist Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) and Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) pick up a hitchhiker as they are driving back to Iowa. Young Archibald “Moonlight” Graham tells them he is on his way to join a baseball team barnstorming its way across the country – an idea that was quaint and a reminder of a bygone era even in 1989 when the movie came out.
Yet at that same time there was a fastpitch softball team that was still hitting the road every day throughout the summer, traveling across the country when it seemed every small town (and many larger ones) had a men’s team or two. And around the world as well, putting on an amazing yet entertaining exhibition of some of the finest softball ever played.
That team was the legendary “King and His Court” led by the King himself Eddie Feigner. With a rotating crew consisting of only a pitcher (Feigner in the early years, others later on), catcher, shortstop and first baseman, the King and His Court would play standard nine-man teams – and beat them soundly, night after night, throughout the summer months.
Recently The Fastpitch Zone gathered together six former members of the Court for a Zoom call commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the team’s last game in 2011 to talk about Feigner, what it was like to be a member of the team, life on the road, and the impact the team had on the people who came to see them as well as their own lives. Click the link above and set aside about 90 minutes to be enthralled.
As they talk about driving in the team van (they didn’t need a tour bus since there were only four of them) and heading out to the field, I swear you will actually be able to smell the sweet aromas of summer – freshly cut grass, that scent as the heat of the day is cooled by a breeze at night, the leather of well-worn gloves – as well as hear the sounds of tires rolling down the road, gloves popping as a Feigner fastball blows by yet another hitter, and fans cheering in the stands. In short, you’ll be transported back to a time when life seemed a little simpler and entertainment was in front of you, life-sized, or perhaps a bit larger than life, instead of squeezed onto a screen.
Oh, and the stories they tell! The six players represent various era of a team that crisscrossed the nation and the world from 1946 through the last game in 2011.
They share fond memories of how some of them saw the team play when they were 11 years old and then were thrilled when asked to become a player later. They also aren’t shy about laughingly talking about how anyone who played while Feigner was alive and running the team was abruptly fired at one point or another, only to be asked back later. That’s life on the road!
Yet the King and His Court was about more than just softball. Yes, they were amazing athletes – so amazing that it only took four of them on the field to beat a full nine-man opponent. At one point they explain they had to have four players so opposing pitchers couldn’t just walk everyone and leave them without a hitter.
But they were also entertainers, with set routines they would pull out to keep the fans engaged and amazed throughout what was often a blowout.
For example, on the first pitch of a game the catcher would tell the umpire to get in real close to him. Then when the pitch came in, the catcher would catch it and act like he had been blown back into the umpire like you would see in a cartoon.
Another standard bit was for the pitcher (Feigner or later Rich Hoppe) to pitch an entire inning blindfolded, or pitch from second base or even right field – and still blow the ball by the hitter.
The goal was to give the fans more than just a softball game. It was to give them something they’d never seen anywhere else and would want to tell their grandchildren about. Then do it again when they came through town again in a couple of years, like a rock band playing its greatest hits for its top fans.
That’s how legends become legends.
Yet they didn’t do all of this to show up the locals. In fact, they did it in a way to make stars of the locals who faced them. It was all in good fun, like if the Harlem Globetrotters were to play your town’s all-star basketball team. Getting “done in” by the King and His Court was a badge of honor for anyone gusty enough to face them.
The hour and a half moves along quickly. Each of the players speaks reverently about Feigner himself, and the massive amount of work he put in – most of them in the pre-Internet days – to hire his players, find opponents, schedule games, arrange for local accommodations and publicity, handle the financials, and essentially keep this labor of love operating for 65 years.
The men’s fastpitch game doesn’t get a lot of love these days; most people reading this are probably focused on the women’s side, particularly younger players. But the reality is the King and His Court did a lot to popularize fastpitch softball and create the opportunities to play that are available today.
Do yourself a favor and give this video a look. If you’re a lover of history you’ll have a chance to explore some of it first-hand from people who were there.
But even if you’re not big on the past be sure to check it out. I think you’ll find it to be time well-spent.