When the ball buzzed past you, it was a blur. Speed guns timed his fastball in the minor leagues at 96 mph. But it wasn’t just the speed of the pitch that worried you. When his potent left arm unleashed a pitch, neither he, you, the catcher nor the umpire had any idea where it would end up.
In the days before helmet flaps, the proverbial in one ear and out the other was a very real possibility.
If you hit against him at night, you didn’t have a chance. You could hear a buzz, see the glow off the heat shield and then hope the pop you heard was from the mitt, not your head being squashed like a melon. Then you walked back to the dugout.
In 1972, he made Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd: “Jim Arline, a sophomore lefthander for the Wilby High baseball team in Waterbury, Conn., struck out 42 in back-to-back games, winning the first 8-1 and losing the second 6-4 in 11 innings. His 21 strikeouts in the first game set a Naugatuck Valley League record.”
Arline also played for the legendary Waterbury Laurels of the Nutmeg League and for Pearl St in the old Twi-Met league. The 21-strikeout, 8-1 game was against my high school team, Kennedy. Chances are, I struck out that day. I can’t recall. If it matters to you, I walked, stole second and scored the only Kennedy run on a Richie Salinaro single. We had only two hits.
Later that week, May 13, I was one of the many fans who crammed into Municipal Stadium to watch Arline pitch against the streaking Naugatuck High baseball team.
Wilby should have won that night. Naugy trailed, 4-2, with two outs in the ninth inning. An error prolonged the game and, eventually, the streak. Arline fanned 21, but he also walked 13. Naugatuck won, 6-4, in 11 innings and increased its winning streak to 54. It became a national sports story, but around here Arline was the bigger news. In that one week, he pitched nine innings against Kennedy and fanned 21, came back on two days’ rest and pitched an inning of relief against Kennedy again — we won, 7-5, but he struck out the three batters he faced — and then tossed 11 innings one day later.
The totals: 21 innings, 45 strikeouts.
No one who saw it, and I saw or played in every inning of it, will ever forget it.
Arline was an All-City, All-NVL and All-State player in baseball and football, and in every way imaginable deserves recognition as Sportsman of the Year from the Waterbury Sportsmen’s Club.
Arline is 55 now. For 13 years, he has lived in Virginia. He will return for the dinner, but he is not well. Arline has prostate cancer and is in the midst of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“This is an honor, and I appreciate it,” Arline said in a recent phone call. “Words cannot express how I feel. Hopefully, I will be there.”