The following is the tale of my attempt to play competitive baseball for the first time in over thirty years. Since there is no way that I can hit (I could never hit a fastball), I offered to try out for this team in a 35+ league as a pitcher.
This is the third installment of the series.
The previous installments are listed here:
The week of March 25 through March 31 brought with it long hours at work, a plethora of meetings, many night time responsibilities, a ton of final editing and revising on my novel (Scattering the Ashes will be published in October 2019)… and precious little baseball.
In fact, during the work week, there was no baseball. At all. (At least in regard to actually playing baseball.)
Earlier that week I officially ordered (paid for) my team jersey and hat. This confirmed that I was actually going to play for this team…at least in the short term.
Because of my earlier commitment to my softball team of many years, I was told that I could play for this baseball team on a game-to-game basis. (Maybe they were wondering how long I’d actually last in this league.) But, in actuality, the softball team I committed to, my team for many years in a terrific league, begins play in late May. I knew that no matter what happened with this baseball team, my new hard ball career would be short-lived, at least in the short-term. (If I pitch a few no-hitters and the Yankees come calling, I might have to take a year off from softball.)
On Saturday, March 30, the first day that I could take a moment to even breathe, I reached out to a friend, the accomplished author and baseball fan Rob Skead. We had been waiting all winter to have a catch and the weather that morning was gorgeous. We agreed to meet at 10:15 at the local middle school’s baseball field. When Rob and I have a catch, we break up the time by talking a lot, often in between throws. It’s good to catch-up. Rob has given me a lot of great advice on my own publishing journey. He’s a good man and a great friend.
We began just by soft-tossing a baseball back and forth in the outfield but soon decided to venture over to the baseball field. Rob offered to get behind the plate so I could throw to him, as my catcher, off a mound…
I towed the pitching rubber and began tossing. Trying a variety of wind-ups, I quickly found my groove and threw pretty well. I was (mostly) consistent in throwing somewhat hard (for me), keeping the ball down in the zone, and throwing what would have to be considered strikes. The best part was I felt completely natural. I had found my old form. And it felt great!
I still can’t throw fast. I still don’t have any sort of breaking pitch. But, still, it felt great to be on the mound. I threw hard enough to make this play feel a little like work. I pushed myself a bit and started grunted with each throw. Not wanting to overdo it and hurt my arm, at that point it made sense to stop and call it a day.
But, darn, did I feel good!
Rob Skead is one of the most optimistic people I know. He always sees the bright side of things. Whether he was being totally honest with me, or not, he told me that I looked pretty good – that if I throw in a game like I threw that morning, I just might get some batters out. Rob’s words left me confident.
I don’t know if I really think that I can get anyone out, but I do know, that if I actually pitch in the baseball league, that I can still throw strikes.
Sunday then arrived, and with it a surprise. An early-morning practice had been hastily arranged with the baseball team. I had an obligation at church (I often assist with the service by reading scripture) and would only have 30-minutes, but I rushed to the field to see how my arm would respond the day after throwing my hardest. I offered to throw batting practice until 10:00. That would leave me enough time to put a suit and tie on and get to church by 11:00…
I can’t quite explain why, but my arm felt good from the first warm-up throw, and it felt great throughout my BP tossing. There was no soreness from my throwing the previous day. The guys batting against me hit many (most) of the balls I threw pretty hard, and some pretty far, but again, I felt good and free and natural on the mound – like I was meant to be there.
I should have been a Yankee…
It has been 34 years since I pitched in a competitive baseball game. In some ways it felt like I never left this game that I love.
It feels great to live out a dream. It’s an old dream, playing baseball, but one I never thought I’d ever do again. I thought my baseball days were long behind me…
And yet, here I was, winding-up, and throwing…
Pitch after pitch after pitch.
Throughout that throwing session, my arm never hurt. Once again I again threw mostly strikes.
The only thing that really gave me pause was the fact that after my last throw, as I left the mound, I felt a twinge…in my left knee.
Now wouldn’t that be something? I can’t imagine… My arm might feel great, but, god forbid, I hope it’s not my knee (a knee that has never troubled me, even after 21 marathons) that causes me to give up on this dream.
I think the knee was just tired. That knee is being forced to do things it hasn’t done in a long long time. It takes the pounding as my plant leg for each pitch I throw. I think the old knee was just saying, “OK, Paul…that’s enough for today. My arm was going to tell me to stop. Something had to.
My knee might be tired, but I’m certainly not.
My next throwing session, with another good friend, Michael Saffer, a former student of mine from long ago, is Wednesday evening.
My dream is still alive…
(This article and series also appears on the Start Spreading The News Yankees Blog.)