The week leading to my third start was rainy and filled with more evening responsibilities that interrupted my throwing program, but, like in previous weeks, I was able to have a very special catch with a very special person.
This time the special catch came late in the week, on Thursday, with my son Alex who just got home from his first year as a graduate student as he works towards his Doctorate of Mathematics. I worked late on Thursday (scooping ice cream for a few hours to support a fund raiser our Home and School Association – another labor of love), but I hoped that when I got home, there would be just enough light for just long enough for Alex and I to have a catch.
I had actually texted Alex earlier that day asking if he’d be available to throw.
I am a very fortunate man. I think that many 23-year-olds just home from college would think that having a catch with their dad would be a drag. Not Alex. His response, “Definitely!” absolutely warmed my heart. Alex didn’t just say “Ok” or “Yes” or even “Sure.” He said “Definitely” with an exclamation point.
There is nothing better than Definitely with an exclamation point!
I couldn’t wait to get home!
It wasn’t long before Alex and I started our catch. We tossed back and forth for a good while as the sun slowly set. I didn’t throw hard, and neither did he, we just played catch the way catch was meant to be played – as a timeless pastime. Sometimes I think Dads and sons were invented just so that they could have catches together. It’s possible.
I wish I could bottle that time we shared. Forever.
If I had all the time in the world, I think I’d just have catches with all the special people in my life.
After we tossed for a while, I demonstrated my solitary throwing routine to Alex. I showed him my Ron Guidry inspired wind-up as he watched me throw ball after ball into the pitch-back. I tried to throw hard to impress him, and Alex said that it seemed that I was indeed throwing hard, but I think he was just being kind. I didn’t feel all that strong as I threw across the lawn in my own private baseball pitching laboratory.
After I finished the demonstration, Alex helped me wrap an ice pack around my arm and we spent the rest of the evening hanging out together and watching a few DVR’d episodes of Jeopardy!.
On Friday, I visited my wonderful chiropractor – a man who has healed me for over twenty years. He has fixed all sorts of my ailments, as he’s truly a sports medicine doctor. He has kept me playing ball and running marathons throughout my adult years. As he manipulated my Achilles, he expressed some frustration with the time it is taking me to heal. Up until this injury, and I’ve had Achilles problems before, and under his care, I have always healed quickly. He keeps me moving – always, but this time I must have really aggravated that tendon because the healing is tediously slow.
On Saturday, Alex and I had another easy catch (I didn’t want to overdo it, but I did want to throw) before we headed up to the local ball field to have some batting practice with a few of my softball buddies.
After we came home, my Achilles tendon hurt a lot and my arm also didn’t feel so great. I told my softball coach (yes, we had a double header that next day – after my baseball game) that I might not be able to play, but he asked me to try. He said that the team needed me.
This wasn’t necessarily because of my tremendous talent…
Without me the team would be short players.
And then came Sunday morning, May 19, and my third start of the year as a pitcher. I was worried about this game because I was sure it wouldn’t be easy. We were playing against the team from Paterson. I had heard that the Paterson guys were very good. And I didn’t feel particularly great physically.
As we arrived, there were a number of men working on the field with heavy equipment getting it ready for us. That doesn’t happen everywhere. I was impressed. It seems that this Paterson team takes baseball seriously. I figured that was good fore the field, but bad for the opponents – especially their pitcher.
I was excited to play and show my (supposed) stuff in this game. While my wife wasn’t able to attend, I had three great fans come to the game to watch me pitch: Alex and my Mom and Dad. I hoped that I’d be able to give them a good show.
Before the game, we got our uniforms. It was the first time I ever had a baseball uniform with my name on the back. I know this isn’t the big leagues, but, in some ways it sure feels like it is.
I began the game feeling uncomfortable on the mound. The baseball field itself, an all-dirt infield, was well-manicured, but the dirt on the mound was dusty and loose. It wasn’t clay either, it was more like a fine sand. There was also a deep hole in front of the pitching rubber making it impossible to begin from behind the rubber as I normally do. In order to pitch from the wind-up, I’d have to pitch from the side of the rubber and pivot. I hoped that delivering the ball from a modified wind-up and from a slightly different spot on the pitcher’s mound than I normally used wouldn’t throw off my game.
I’ll cut to the chase – we lost, I lost (I’m now 0-3), but I pitched my best game yet.
I really felt like I was pitching today. I was throwing to spots, moving the ball, and I got better and better each inning. While the end result wasn’t what I wanted it to be (I’d like to win a game one of these days), today’s experience might have been the greatest baseball game of my life.
At fifty-years-old, I might have hit my peak.
I wasn’t great by any definition other than my own low standards, but boy was it a good game for me.
I threw well, threw easy, and for whatever reason my Achilles didn’t bother me nor did my old right arm. As the game went on, I actually got stronger. And I pitched well and smart and effectively. I moved the ball around, I changed speeds. I worked the outside corner at the start and then later in the game, I was able to pound the inside corner. There were a lot of swinging strikes.
I allowed two runs in the first inning, two in the second, and one in the third. I allowed five runs in all (but, according to one teammate, due to some errors, only one of the runs was earned). But, better, and maybe more importantly, I allowed no runs in the fourth or in the fifth innings before I came out of the game. In fact, I retired the last seven batters I faced.
I’m really, really enjoying this.
A few quick highlights stand out:
For whatever reason, my pitches seemed to move more than usual. The Paterson guys kept talking about my great slider. I don’t think I throw a slider…but, ok. Who knows? Well, I do. I don’t throw a slider, bit I do know that they were concerned about that low and away pitch early in the game which I used to my advantage when I pitched inside later.
In the bottom of the third inning, I threw what I hoped was a two-strike curveball with two outs. Whether it curved or not, I don’t know, but it bucked the batter’s leg and was a perfect strike. I threw it, it landed in Coach Yates’ glove (our catcher), and I ran off the mound as the umpire yelled “Strike three.” Pure Euphoria!
In those last two innings, a few players hit soft grounders to me. On one hit, I grabbed the ball and raced ahead of the batter to first to get the out. This brought some laughter from our opponents as they kidding their teammate. “Hey the old man beat you to first base!” The other batters I struck out, except for the last batter who hit a high popup that I caught just off the mound to end my five innings and my outing.
Knowing I was done, I then went to the umpires and the Paterson guys and thanked telling them for a great game, “That’s it for me,” I said. They high-fived me, patted me on the back, and said, “Keep pitching.” I then went to my bench where the team congratulated me for a fine job. “You were amazing,” one person said, “Never seen anything like it.” One Paterson player then came over and said, “I love it when an old guy shows us younger guys how to play.”
Alex then came over, smiling, with a look of pure proudness in his eyes. It’s great when An old dad can do something special in his son’s eyes. My parents too. It’s great when a kid can still, even as an old adult, do something to impress his parents.
Alex helped me put the ice pack around my arm, and we departed so I could get to the softball double header that my Achilles was dreading. There were a few more hugs, pats on the back, and words of congratulations. I wished I had more time and that I could have stayed longer.
I know that time is fleeting and that magical moments never last. As I get older and older I am learning that I need to slow it all down and embrace the good. (I’m learning that, but I’m still way too over-scheduled.)
I’ve never been much of a baseball player so the bar is pretty low, but as I said to Alex and my parents as we reached our cars, “That was probably my greatest moment ever on a ball field. That was the best baseball I ever played.”
I was the losing pitcher in the end.
Sometimes losing doesn’t feel all that bad.
In the softball double-header that I didn’t think I’d be able to play in, we won both games by 15 or more runs. Our competition that day wasn’t the highest quality. In addition, every batter on our team was on fire. Yeah, me too. I went 6 for 8 in the two games and even hit two home runs. I can’t explain it.
As I write this, late on Sunday night, after the euphoria has died down, I have been expecting my arm and my Achilles to be extremely sore. I have braced myself all day to be in excruciating pain, but, remarkably, I feel pretty good. I can’t explain that either.
Maybe I’m still living off all the endorphins that propelled me through the day. Maybe.
I does feel great… to feel great!
My next scheduled start, due to a host of commitments made before this season ever started, is June 23. It seems like a lifetime away.
I just know this…I can’t wait to pitch again. I feel like a kid again; a kid with big league dreams that just might come true.
Previous installments of this series can be found here:
This entire series can be found at www.startspreadingthenews.blog