(I also published this story on my Yankees site: Start Spreading the News as part of the series “One Last Shot” as I document my return to playing baseball after 34 years away from the game as a player.)
How often have I dreamed of playing baseball professionally?
I don’t know… it probably hasn’t been every day of my life, but it’s been most days and probably multiple times on most days.
Oh, who am I kidding. It’s ALL I think about!
As of the writing of this post, I have been alive about 19,400 days.
That’s a lot of dreaming.
Before August 11, 2021, I had never played baseball on a field other than a recreation or high school field.
I never played in a real ballpark or in a stadium.
But, on August 11, the dream, came true, at least a little.
On August 11, I arrived in Cooperstown, New York.
On August 11, I pitched, in a tournament game, on Doubleday Field, in Cooperstown, New York.
As the Yankees prepared to play on the Field of Dreams in Iowa, I played on a field of dreams of my own in baseball’s most special village.
I am much better writing about my failures than my successes.
But today, I have to write about my success because that is what it was, plain and simple. Success.
On a legendary baseball diamond, I enjoyed the greatest day of my baseball life.
I pitched better than I ever did before, and probably ever will again.
In a tournament, in the game that would decide the final seedings, I was given the start to hopefully carry my team to victory.
And I did.
With my wife in the stands, along with my mom and dad (they all came to Cooperstown to help me live out this dream), I took the ball on the famous baseball field in Cooperstown, New York.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the venue or the game. Baseball is baseball. 60 feet, 6 inches is 60 feet, 6 inches. I know I can pitch. I know I can throw strikes.
And I did.
Batter after batter and inning after inning.
I don’t have killer “stuff.” I don’t have a great curve ball. I don’t throw especially fast.
I didn’t strike anyone out.
But I also didn’t walk anyone. In fact, I only went to three balls on one batter.
I gave up about five or six hits over five innings, my dad swears it was only three hits, but I recall there being more runners on base.
The team behind me played EXCEPTIONAL defense. (in short, I threw strikes, the batters hit the ball, and the fielders behind me made the plays… and then some.)
It was fun and magical and very very special.
I lived a dream.
I am a man of faith.
People who know me know that I pray on the mound before each inning. As I wipe off the pitching rubber before beginning my warm-up pitches, I ask God for his blessings to keep us all safe (and to not have a batter hit a line drive at me).
I usually don’t ask for success… but in this game I did.
As the game progressed, I found myself praying more and more – on the mound, and in the dugout, before the innings I pitched, and during. I prayed for my success, or was it just good luck, to keep going.
I thanked God for the gifts he was giving me… and asked for them to continue.
He was listening.
There’s no doubt that he was listening.
The inning, by inning results were amazing.
Zero runs allowed in the first.
None again in the second.
They failed to score off me in the third inning.
And the fourth.
I took a shutout into the fifth inning…
Pitching for the #2 seed in a competitive tournament, I took a shutout into the fifth inning! I wasn’t pitching against a bad team. These guys had defeated us earlier in the week.
But on this day, we were defeating them!
(As I have said, I was living a dream.)
I then recorded the first two outs of the inning. I knew the next out would be my last. I figured the coach would pull me. The game was close, I was tiring, the dream already lived.
As such, I took a moment, the briefest of moments, and stood on the mound and looked around me. I wanted to soak it all in. I was pitching on Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. I wanted to capture a few moments in my mind – forever moments that I would carry everywhere and always.
I am glad I did.
Up to that point, with the help of the great defense behind me, including a double play fly out to right field where the runner was thrown out trying to score to close the second inning, I had retired nine batters in a row.
Still, I knew that I had gone as far as I could.
I then threw the ball and the batter hit a hard, but playable, grounder to second… it snuck through. As the second baseman later said, “I blew it. The ball ate me up. I should have had it.” All good. That’s baseball.
But then I allowed another hit, a bloop to left, and then another.
With the bases loaded, a pinch hitter smashed a ball to left, two runs scored, but a runner was thrown out at third to end the frame. The inning was over. The lead intact.
My day was done.
We held them off and prevailed with a 5-2 victory.
I pitched us to the tournament’s #2 position.
They gave me the game ball.
I have never experienced such success on a baseball field.
I came to Cooperstown and pitched the greatest game of my life.
I didn’t do it alone. Not nearly.
But I did it.
I have spent more than 19,000 days dreaming about being a big leaguer.
If nothing else, I will now have tens of thousands more days to remember the game I pitched on a big league field (of sorts) in baseball’s legendary village.
I lived and am still living a dream…
Postscript – My win gave us the second seed for the tournament finals. In the final game, short of players, I was penciled in as the right fielder. Due to an injury, I was then going to have to be the #2 hitter in the lineup.
I wasn’t scared or nervous when I was pitching. I know I can throw strikes.
But standing in right field was terrifying. I haven’t played as an outfielder in a baseball game since I was a kid. I believe I can do it, but playing there in the winner-take-all championship game wasn’t necessarily the way I wanted to test my mettle as an outfielder. This wasn’t the time or place to find out if I can play outfield.
But there I was.
I did not want to make a bad play to cost the team any outs or runs, or, God Forbid, the championship.
I prayed, again, and again, that I wouldn’t blow it. I certainly didn’t want Doubleday Field, the place the most amazing game I ever pitched, to also be the place where I made a fool of myself trying to play outfield.
There is a God and he was listening.
As we were batting in the second inning, thunder ensued. The umpires cleared us from the field. The skies opened up. The rain came in buckets. After about 45 minutes of a deluge, they called the game. The field was unplayable.
The two teams were named Co-Champions.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief.