Dotting ‘Double i’ and crossing‘Double t’

Friday, January 7, 2022

Many may hesitate to write glowingly of an athletic opponent who embarrassed the crap out of you every time you competed against him in two sports for four years of high school, but that’s what I’m about today in remembering Larry “Butch” (Double i, Double t) Biittner.

Friends for 60 years through high school, college, and portions of the adult, beer/softball circuit in the 1980s and 90s, Biittner was my nemesis on the field and court as a man among boys. He starred for Pocahontas Catholic and I played for Storm Lake St. Mary’s.

We Panthers had the good fortune to play those incredible Eagles twice a season in both baseball and basketball. That’s 16 times. We finished 1-15, beating them in basketball in our home gym when we were juniors because Larry was absent for his father’s funeral.

At BVC, Biittner could have been mistaken for the college president. He ruled the roost as a gifted, special talent and killer competitor who’d trample Mother Theresa if she were between him and the ball or the base. A chain smoker, Butch would light up in the locker room and take smoke breaks at baseball practice and games. When the Beavers qualified for the NAIA Baseball Championships in Arizona, he drove one of the station wagons as “The Smokers’ Bus” where only he and the players who smoked were allowed. It’d be no real revelation if beer was also on board.

As a left-handed batter like Larry, one day in BVC baseball practice I was flailing away swinging and missing a lefty’s curve ball. “Strucker, see the dot!” exclaimed Biittner waiting his turn to hit BP. “What dot? All I see is a white blur,” I responded. He took me aside and explained that the threads on the baseball spin into a red dot if it’s a curve ball. “You just allow for the break and belt the s—- out of it,” he said. Eagle eyes from a Poky Eagle. One more advantage for that guy.

A slow and lazy short-timer, I wasn’t a regular on the basketball team but sat in amazement at what Butch could do on the court at 6-4 and 225. He played so hard due to his competitive zeal and adding that to his skill set and want-to made him a fierce, dominating player.

I was selling ag buildings in the 80s and early 90s and Poky was in my territory. Butch had finished his MLB career and moved back home. Every day like clockwork, he and the boys would convene at the Liberty Inn owned and operated by another Poky legend Mike Eichler. They called Larry “All-Star” and treated him just like everyone else. The farmers also arrived for cocktail hour and I sold quite a few buildings in that area using the Liberty Inn as my office and Biittner as a reference.

When slow-pitch softball replaced fast-pitch in rural Iowa, Butch played in Cherokee’s league on a Storm Lake team for a couple years. Larry would be at first base with a cigarette in his mouth and a can of beer sitting on the base. He hit the ball wherever he wanted. When you run with the Big Dogs you better be a Big Dog.

A true lefty, Butch taught himself to golf right-handed because he didn’t have access to left-handed clubs. We payed a few times through the years and he took a lot of quarters from me. Sometimes he’d putt one-handed, unwilling to put down his beverage.

I got Larry to speak and give a clinic at the old CABA Baseball World Series we hoisted in Aurelia and Cherokee for many years. His message to the kids was to work hard, practice hard, play hard, but most of all love the game. He didn’t mention seeing the dot. He also said something about doing your homework,as if he ever spent any time at that.

Butch played more than 10 years in the Majors and waited 10 years to draw his MLB pension to max out his draw at about $50,000 per year for the rest of his life. A life ending way too soon for the greatest athlete I ever played with and against.

Poky, BVU, I feel the pain. Please don’t ever forget Butch “Double i, Double t” Biittner. I never will.

And if I still dank, I’d sure as hell have one now.

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