(Note: This article can also be found on Start Spreading The News.)
Opening Day is a month, a week, and a day away. That’s my Opening Day. The day my baseball season begins.
In 2019, after not pitching in any competitive baseball game for over 34 years, I made a comeback as the old guy, a 50+-year-old pitcher, in a highly competitive wood bat 35-year-old + baseball league. I pitched again last year.
The upcoming 2021 season will be my third.
After proving to myself that I can hold my own on the mound, and even pitch complete nine inning games, I am no longer content with just being able to do that.
Now I want to win.
I am determined. I have been working extremely hard. I believe I am ready.
This is the year I become the pitcher I have always wanted to be, the pitcher I wanted the be when I was a kid – the one who thought he’d be a Major Leaguer. The one who dreamed that with all his energy and might every single day of his life…
The one who thought that if he could out pitch and out hit every kid in the neighborhood in Wiffle Ball (and I could) that the big leaguers were just around the corner.
It wasn’t to be.
Not even close.
In high school, I didn’t even make Varsity.
Yes, if anyone is wondering. I’ll turn 53 this summer, but I still believe (because I have to) that I still have a shot in the Major Leagues.
I just might be helping the New York Yankees this summer during their stretch drive.
Why not dream?
Crazier things have happened.
And I have a lot of life left in my arm. (How many big leaguers gave their arm a 34-year rest?)
In 2019, my first season on the mound, I pitched with tears in my right Achilles. I had surgery after the season in January 2020.
Last season, I pitched as I was rehabbing my post-surgical Achilles.
This year I’ll be 100% healthy when I pitch.
I am finally healthy.
I’m also in the best physical shape I’ve been in in many years.
Now that I can exercise again, fully exercise, and run (and run hard), I am back to the guy I used to be who ran marathons. (I haven’t run a marathon since 2018…and that one I ran with the Achilles tears.)
I’ve been lifting. I’ve been running. Daily. And always. (Even when I was hurt, I exercised daily, sometimes twice a day, but since last autumn, I can finally, finally, give more effort – the effort I have been missing. I have been able to give the effort that is getting me back into the shape I always thought I was in but didn’t reflect in the mirror.
I’ve lost about 20 pounds since last season while physically getting much stronger.
And I am also throwing. Pitching. Real pitching. I do this a few times each week. I have done this every week since Christmas. My sons gave me a huge baseball net which is set up in my basement. I pitch into that net. I throw hard. I’m giving it my all.
I’m not kidding around.
If I fail this year, I’ll fail (as Theodore Roosevelt once said), “while daring greatly.” My soul will not be like the timid ones that do not know victory or defeat.
But, I’ve tasted enough defeat.
This year I plan to taste victory.
I’m giving this all I have.
And I’m not doing it alone.
At the end of last season, I sought out a professional pitching coach. We had one session in the fall before I stopped throwing to give my arm the rest it deserved The coach seemed to like a lot of what I can do. It seems my mechanics are all still pretty good.
I asked him to teach me how to really pitch. I can throw strikes. I want to now throw meaningful strikes.
I asked him to teach me how to throw a good curve ball.
He also taught me a pretty good change-up.
And some other things. But no, not a knuckler. I’m not breaking out a trick pitch like that this year. (Ok, maybe I will, just for fun, on occasion, just like my high lob pitch. Hey, I do have to have some fun out there on the mound.)
Earlier this week, I had my first “Spring Training” session with the coach. The ball was moving. It was (mostly) doing what I wanted.
There’s work to do. (There’s always work.)
But, even as an old guy, I’m learning. I’m progressing. I’m actually getting better.
If I can throw these pitches for strikes in a game, it will be a different ballgame this year.
Did I say I plan to win a few games this year?
It was pretty funny being in the baseball training facility. It was me and about a thousand teenage (and younger) kids. They all probably wondered who the old guy was.
One kid approached me, he couldn’t have been more than twelve-years-old, and said, “Hey, you throw like Nolan Ryan. Your wind-up looks just like Nolan Ryan’s.”
I smiled and said, “I am Nolan Ryan.”
(Nolan Ryan is now 74-years-old. I’m sure his fastball is still a ton faster than mine.)
Still, it’s not everyday that one is compared to a Hall-of-Fame pitcher.
The goal will be for my opponents this year to say the same thing.
“That old guy, he throws like Nolan Ryan!”
Maybe I’ll toss a no-hitter this year.
At my next coaching session, I’m going to work on the other big thing I need in my arsenal – a fastball. A true fastball – a two-strike, blow-them-away pitch that I use when absolutely necessary. (Last year there were no fewer than 10,000 two strike pitches I threw that were fouled off.)
I need a heater.
I’m old. I just don’t throw that hard. (But, I have to be honest, even when I was young, I didn’t throw hard.)
I’m hoping I can learn to throw a little harder, to get a little muscle behind the fastball.
If I get that, I’ll really be set.
Opening Day is April 11.
I’ll be ready.
I’m ready already.
I can’t wait!
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