One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part 1)

I am fifty years old. I’ll turn 51 this summer. I’m no longer young. I’m not as flexible, strong, or physically able as I used to be. All of this comes with age. Of course. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I’m not in bad shape. Last November, I ran the New York City Marathon. I was slow (4:47:47), but because I was coming off a torn Achilles and was under-trained, I was pleased. In the first Rocky movie, Rocky said, “All I wanna do is go the distance.” I went the distance. It was my 21st lifetime marathon. Not bad.

I also still play in two pretty competitive men’s softball leagues. One league is a 30+ league where I’m becoming one of the older players. I still play shortstop and handle myself well enough. The other league is a 50+ league where I play more of a utility role. That team won the league’s championship last year.

I love to play ball.

When I play ball and when I run in big races, I can often recapture the dreams of my youth… dreams that involved being a famous baseball player, specifically, a Yankee. When I make a great play, or deliver a clutch hit, or as people cheer me as I run past them in a big city, I can almost imagine what it would have felt like to be a Yankee. I like to share that I wore #2 as a kid, long before Derek Jeter wore it. It seemed, to me, at least, that the Yankees were holding the number for me.

Alas! It wasn’t to be.

While I still play ball somewhat well, and while I still run, I’m still not in my best shape. My chiropractor suggested the other day that I could afford to lose a few pounds. Ugggg. Middle-age is not always fun.

About a week ago, some of the dads of children in my school were talking about a baseball league – baseball, not softball – that they were creating a team for. It’s a 35+ plus league that only uses wood bats. As they talked, and I listened, I was invited to join the team. I wasn’t sure if these men were serious.

My first instinct was to say no and laugh off the idea.

I haven’t played baseball since I was 16 year old. That was my last year in any organized baseball league. I pitched that year (not all that well) on the JV baseball team for my high school.

I then found out that these baseball games will be played on Sunday mornings. That is when one of my softball teams plays. The conflict seemed unsolvable. But as we talked, I learned that this league starts in April and my Sunday Morning softball doesn’t start until late May or June. If they wanted me for part of the season, I actually could play at the start of the season and sporadically there after.

But I can’t play baseball any more.

Still…

Baseball.

Baseball has always been a big part of me. Much of who I am centers around baseball.

I still dream of being a Yankee. One day when I retire, I’ll attend a Yankees Fantasy Camp. But that’s years away.

As a dad, I taught baseball to my kids. And, for more than 15 years, I lived baseball as I coached all three of my sons through the majority of their recreation baseball league careers. I haven’t played baseball in a long time, but I haven’t been totally away from the game.

More reality then slapped me in the face – I then realized that since my children have grown, it’s been a long time since I even coached – six years at least. (Where does the time go?)

As the conversation with these men continued, I couldn’t help but wonder if I still had it – whatever that “it” was or might have been. I offered, “I am intrigued by the idea. I’m old, way too old. I haven’t played baseball in a long long time. I’m quite certain I can’t hit a baseball any longer. A softball, yes. But we play slow pitch or arc. I don’t think I can catch up to a fastball any longer.” (Truth be told, I could never hit a fastball.)

And then I suggested, “But if you DH me, I could probably…pitch.”

To my surprise, they all seemed to think it was a good idea. I was told, “If you want to pitch, you’re on the team.”

I had a lot to think about.

A few days later, I wrote the following to the team captains, “My fastball, by this point in my life, probably tops out at 15 MPH, my curve is nonexistent, and my knuckle ball doesn’t knuckle, but I can throw strikes, and lots of them.  If the batters hit the ball to my fielders, it just might work.  (I don’t envision many strikeouts…).

If you need a pitcher who has more heart than skill and you could accommodate me on the rare days off when my softball team doesn’t play, I’d be interested in taking the mound, if only once, for one last hurrah.”

Somehow even that didn’t scare them away. They said they’d still welcome me on the team.

But, I still wasn’t sure about playing.

As a result, two days later, last Friday, the first thing we did when I picked up Ethan from college for his Spring Break, was have a catch. I need to see how the old arm felt after a long winter’s respite.

It felt great!

We threw for about fifteen minutes before packing up the car and driving home.

We then threw again on Saturday in the front yard. The first few throws hurt in the way one’s arm always hurts the day after throwing. It’s a good dull pain that I remembered well. Then, the ol’ arm quickly loosened up and I still felt good.

But having a catch isn’t playing baseball.

On Sunday, Ethan and I went to the nicest full-sized baseball field in town so I could throw off the pitcher’s mound. It was cold and windy. It was probably no more than 42 degrees out. Still, I had to throw. I pitched from the wind-up and the stretch. I wasn’t as accurate as I remember being as a kid. I didn’t have much in my arsenal back then, but I could always throw strikes. Thirty four years later, I still didn’t a collection of pitches, but on this, my first time truly trying to pitch in decades, I struggled to find the strike zone. At least at first.

By the end of our throwing session, I was getting better. I kept tweaking my wind-up. I needed to find that old (very old) muscle memory. Sure, I threw batting practice as a coach, and I’ve thrown billions of pitches in backyard Wiffle Ball games, but throwing a baseball off of a mound was something new again.

As Ethan and I walked home, I said, “I’m not encouraged by how I did, but I’m also not discouraged. Maybe it’ll all come around.”

But, even with this, I didn’t commit to the team.

I was just living a pretend fantasy.

Until yesterday when the e-mail came.

“Dr. Sem, what size uniform shirt do you wear? And what number do you want?”

They really wanted me. I didn’t hesitate to respond.

I asked for uniform #2. That’s always been my number. I flirted with asking for #56 which was Jim Bouton’s* number, but in the end, I had to be true to me.

(*Jim Bouton had a short-lived Major League comeback in 1978 after being out of the big leagues for almost a decade. He then pitched in my area for many years in a semi-pro league lasting well into his late-fifties – always throwing his signature knuckleball.)

I immediately texted my wife and kids.

“I’m going to do it. I just agreed to play on the baseball team.”

Mike Trout may have just signed for over 400 million dollars, but I think I got the best baseball offer this winter. After 34 years, I’m going to be playing baseball again.

If only for one game…

I’m back.

As is my dream of putting on the pinstripes.

***

(This story is also published on www.startspreadingthenews.blog.)

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Author Visit – March 18, 2019

I am looking forward to another great author event on March 18, 2019 at the Oakland, New Jersey Public Library.

I appreciate all of the support, kindness, and encouragement from so many.  

I hope to inspire many people tomorrow to help them realize that, like me, they truly can achieve their dreams.

Living The Dream

Those of you who have known me long enough have read stories of my hopes to be a published author and all of the trials, travails, failures, and bumps along the way I have faced as I pursue this dream.

Along the way, there have also, of course been some successes, but these only came after much failure, many rejections, and more than a few (sometimes harsh) criticisms from those in the business of publishing. 

Continue reading “Living The Dream”

My 2019 Marathon Plan (Part 1)

I ran my first marathon in 2002.  Since then, in my running “career,” I have completed 21 marathons.  That’s 21 marathons in 17 years, a pretty good rate.

I have run some races pretty quickly, with my PR taking place in Chicago in 2006 (3:25:16).  But, as I have aged, I have (not surprisingly) gotten slower.  I knew going into this year’s New York City Marathon that I would be very slow and that it would be a huge struggle for me for numerous reasons including the fact that I was coming back from an injury (Achilles tear) that kept me out of the previous year’s marathon and the fact that, while I was upping my mileage, I still wasn’t 100%, nor was I properly trained for a good showing.

You get out of it what you put into it.

I put in determination and heart.  Those traits got me through the race.  I din’t put in the necessary training miles.  That resulted in my slowest marathon time ever (4:47:47). 

While I am not overjoyed with that result, I have to admit that I actually thought I’d be a lot slower.  I was concerned that 2018 would be my first ever five hour marathon.  Determination and heart prevented that from happening because I was not, by any definition of the term, in marathon shape.

Now about a month after the marathon, I’m still not in great shape.  But, I am determined that when I take the starting line for what I hope will be two marathons in 2019, I will be in much better physical shape.  I have been on a cycle of poor showings for quite a while now…and I’m ready to break that pattern.

It is to that end that I designed this new marathon plan – a 10-month plan that (I hope) will get me to the starting line in my best shape in many (many) years.  While I persevered and got through the 2018 New York City Marathon, I did it with a lot of self-doubt.  Most of my most recent marathons have been run that way.   I need to change that. Continue reading “My 2019 Marathon Plan (Part 1)”

NYC Marathon: Rejoice In Suffering

I have had the great pleasure and honor of sharing inspirational words with my fellow runners at the Interfaith Chapel at the start of the New York City Marathon a number of times.  I find it extremely inspiring to share God’s word before the race as we all prepare for the long miles ahead.  This year I participated in two services and, as such, delivered two “sermons.”  I will share both of these messages here on my blog.  The first message I delivered is directly below this one on the blog’s home page.  I hope, these words inspire you and your faith as well.  

Rejoice in Suffering:

Continue reading “NYC Marathon: Rejoice In Suffering”

NYC Marathon: God Is With Us

I have had the great pleasure and honor of sharing inspirational words with my fellow runners at the Interfaith Chapel at the start of the New York City Marathon.  I find it extremely inspiring to share God’s word before the race as we all prepare for the long miles ahead.  This year I participated in two services and, as such, delivered two “sermons.”  I will share both of these messages here on my blog.  I hope, these words also inspire you and your faith as well.  

God Is With Us Today:

Continue reading “NYC Marathon: God Is With Us”

Please Help Support a Great Cause!

My family has been struggling through the realities of cancer. Through this I have seen loved ones, especially my mother-in-law, exhibiting tremendous strength and character in the face of difficult news. Throughout all of this, the American Cancer Society has been a shining light – comprised of true miracle workers filled with kindness, support, and most of all, love. As I run the NYC Marathon on November 4, 2018, I would like to give back to this wonderful organization that does so much for so many. Thank you for your support.

Here is the link to my fundraising page: 

DR. SEM RUNS THE NYC MARATHON FOR THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY

The Power of 20

You know, it’s funny…

I was getting very nervous about my upcoming NYC Marathon. And although I have run twenty marathons, coming back from an injury that sidelined me for so long had me scared.

(Let’s just say this – an Achilles tear is simply no fun.)

Because it’s been so long since I have run far.  I’ve been scared.  Very scared.

Continue reading “The Power of 20”

Me On The Radio – Quite An Honor

One of the most wonderful parts of being an educator and a writer is that my ideas and words seem to inspire other people and bring them joy.  

I am absolutely honored (and humbled) to be featured on WCBS News Radio 880 A.M. in New York City. 

Thank you Sean Adams and WCBS!

Here is the story:

Stories From Main Street: A Principal Who Writes To Inspire Kids And Adults

At 50, I’m Back To 40

It may seem like this passage is about running, but it’s not.  It’s about me and you and all of us.  The place where the idea was born, though, came out of running.  Stick with me, you’ll understand in a moment…

While I have always tried to push myself to do things that I didn’t think were possible, and sometimes succeeded (but just as often failed), and while I have always believed that I could do anything (and I do believe we all can), I am sometimes (believe it or not) hampered by self-doubt.

This all might sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t.  As we push to attain new goals, part of us often wonders if that new goal is possible.  I’m a big believer in trying.  I like to go for it, but as I do, there are times when I wonder if attaining the goal is even possible. 

Continue reading “At 50, I’m Back To 40”