It all started as a sort of lark. A few dads from my school were talking about forming a baseball team and jokingly (or not) asked me if I was interested in playing. I immediately declined. While I have played competitive men’s softball for decades, I hadn’t played baseball since I was sixteen years old. While I might be pretty good at softball (on my good days), I was never very good as baseball.
If I had one, my prime would have been a long time ago. I’m fifty years old, well past baseball age. I knew that a league like that wasn’t for me.
Still, after immediately saying no, I started to have regrets. I quickly offered, knowing that I absolutely positively cannot hit a baseball any longer that I could, possibly, pitch. If they would use a designated hitter for me, I said, I’d love to try pitching.
I knew I could throw strikes. I didn’t know how long I could throw them, or if, in throwing strikes, that I could get anyone out. But, boy did I want to try!
I love baseball. I always want to play baseball. But I figured, and had figured for decades, that my baseball days were long behind me.
We all grow up, eventually, but I don’t ever want to really grow up. Sure, I am the principal of a school and I’ve been an educator for about thirty years. That’s grown-up stuff. I have a wife and three grown sons, I pay the bills. I give lectures. I teach… I do all the things that adults are supposed to do.
But still part of me still doesn’t want to grow up.
There is a part of me, that kid inside of me, that still thinks that the Yankees might want me… thinks that the Yankees might need me.
I will never give up my childhood dream of pitching for the Yankees. I say this knowing that that dream can never come true.
But I believe in dreaming…
Still, there was that other factor that made this whole idea silly, if not absolutely stupid. I’m fifty years old. I’m at the age when most people stop playing ball. I’m not at the age when they start again. It’s at my age that people hang up their spikes, not take them off the shelf.
People just don’t come back to baseball in their fifties – especially people that haven’t played since they were in high school, and even then never made varsity.
But, even with all of that, I decided that l’d give it a shot. Just once. I thought it would be awesome to pitch just once. If nothing else, I’d have one last game to remember and a fun story to tell. Every fighter thinks he has one last great fight left in him. I was hoping that I’d have just one last baseball game in me.
Why these dads took me on the team, I’ll never really know. But they did. And I decided that if I was going to do this thing, I’d do it right.
I began throwing every other day to build up my arm strength and to find the old rhythm in my wind-up.
On April 7, I pitched my first game. I did reasonably well for three innings before the other team put on a hitting display out of the movies (or cartoons) and tagged me for something like a million runs in the fourth inning. Still, on the bright side, before the deluge, I got some guys out and even had a few strikeouts.
I started to believe…
Why they decided to let me pitch again, I’ll never know, but they did. On Sunday, April 28, I made my second start of the year.
I don’t know if they know it yet, but those dads, Mr. Yates and Mr. Fluet, created a monster.
I’m hooked. Totally. Completely.
I can’t wait to get out on the mound again next week.
In short, this start, my second, was a totally different experience. Vastly different. In my first game, I gave it everything I had, but I pitched not knowing what would happen. I had no expectations _ I only had hopes. In spite of that one big inning, I proved I could get men out (and of some the men were twenty years (or more) younger than me). That was encouraging…
In this second game, I pitched to pitch. I felt like I could be more of myself out there. I mixed things up, tried some new things, had a lot of fun…
And I did well. Real well.
“Better Than I Ever Imagined” well.
In the first inning, I allowed only one run. I struck out a batter that inning.
In the second inning, I retired the side in order. I think I had two strikeouts.
(When I’m pitching I’m trying to hold every last moment and memory in my heart, but I just can’t, hours later, recall all the facts. Everything is going a million miles an hour and I’m more focused on pitching then remembering the specifics about the game.)
In the third inning, I allowed a few runners, but I don’t think any scored. I even picked-off a runner. (I think that was in the third inning.)
In the fourth inning, I allowed one run. Just one. But, by then, I had thrown a lot of pitches.
After the fourth inning, I told Coach Yates that I had only one more inning left in me.
I went out for the fifth inning and labored a bit, but still allowed only two runs.
In total, I pitched five full innings, threw (I am sure) over 100 pitches, allowed only four runs, struck out three, and had a blast. An absolute blast.
Best of all, I didn’t walk any batters. No walks. I knew I could throw strikes!
Worst of all, I hit four batters. Yikes. I didn’t mean to do that! (I apologized to each guy.)
In the end, I think I can really pitch in this league. Even more, I think I can actually win a few games.
I’m not a great pitcher. We lost today. My record is now 0-2.
I might not even be a good pitcher, but, I think I’m learning how to pitch. I was better today, by far, than my first time out there. At fifty years old, pitching in 35+ league (though teams are allowed a few players under 35), I’m learning how to pitch.
I have to hope that I continue to get better.
I have another reason to be optimistic.
Going into today’s game, I was pitching with a distinct disadvantage. I began the game with a sore arm.
I have been throwing, religiously, every other day. I throw 100 or so pitches each time working on my form and building arm strength. I think I’ve gotten stronger. I think my (slow) fastball is getting faster. I’m still trying, desperately, to find a curveball.
I’ve been like a metronome – consistent to a fault.
Or I was, until this week.
After throwing to my son Ethan on April 20, I found that my arm really hurt. Two days later, on a damp, rainy, and wet afternoon, I threw only 50 or so pitches. The next day I threw 100, felt good, but my schedule was now thrown off. I threw again on the 25th, and, then on Saturday, the day before my start. I was just too excited, but on a day when I should not have thrown, I threw… not a lot, but just enough…
to make my arm really hurt.
Then, as I was resting, a softball teammate and good friend called me from a local field and said, “Hey wanna take a few swings?” Of course, I said yes. That also meant shagging flies and tossing softballs…
And after all of that, my arm was really really sore.
I’ve been icing it after each throwing session, but the old wing started showing its age this week.
Still, it would take more than a sore arm to get me to not pitch.
So I went tout there today and battled.
And did well!
In addition, I’m also dealing with a problem Achilles tendon that pretty much hurts – always. This pain has made me realize that I shouldn’t even think about a marathon this year. I’m getting the Achilles treated twice a week, but it’s not going to heal quickly enough for me to ramp up the necessary miles in the coming weeks to begin marathon training.
Well, if I really push it, I probably could, but this year…
This year I’m going to focus on baseball.
Late in afternoon, after also playing softball (we won!), as I was icing my arm and my Achilles tendon, I felt like a guy much older than fifty. I was tired and hobbled…
But, at the same time, I also felt like a kid again.
I don’t think this is a lark any longer.
I’m in for the duration.
I’ll take a few days off from throwing and then I’ll begin again on Wednesday. I’ll throw on Wednesday and Friday.
I have to.
We’re getting our uniforms this week and I’m pitching again on Sunday.
I can’t wait!
Previous installments of this series can be found here:
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part One)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Two)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Three)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Four)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Five)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Six)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Seven – The First Start)
One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part Eight – The Weeks Between)