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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The Best Books I Read in 2018

At the end of December, I always look back and review the books I read over the past year.  I have been keeping track of the books I have read since 1989.  Keeping these lists has been wonderful for it allows me to look back over the many books I have read in my adult life.  Through this exercise I get to remember great passages, great themes, and great ideas.  When I look back, I also remember the titles and authors I have particularly enjoyed which often brings me back to read those same books again.  I love reading and believe that our lives are infinitely richer through the books we read.

Here is a list of the best books that I read in 2018 with a short summary of each. (Quick note – not all of the books listed below are pictured in the graphic.)

MY FAVORITE BOOKS 2018

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A Yankees Fan, A Red Sox Fan, and a Very Special Baseball Bat

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

We were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish Country, with many family members to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.

Our family started to gather in the hotel lobby so we could head off to dinner.  Sitting at the center of it all, proudly wearing his Red Sox hat, was Dad, basking in the joy of togetherness.  He had his wife and children with him – and a few of the grandkids.  My dad loves his family even more than he loves the Red Sox (although he has loved the Red Sox longer than any of us.  Dad’s love of the Sox goes back to 1946.  He met my mom in the late 1950’s and my sister and I came more than a decade after that.)

Continue reading “A Yankees Fan, A Red Sox Fan, and a Very Special Baseball Bat”

Radio Star II

A few months ago, I shared how people who I will never know might be impacted by the words I read from my basement in the early hours before school each day.  I read a health report and share words of inspiration for a radio show in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area. 

As a high school kid, when I dreamed of being a radio announcer, I thought I’d be doing things a little differently than what I’m doing now.  I also thought that if I was on the radio, I’d be talking about baseball – especially the Yankees.   

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Being a Baseball Detective

(This post was originally published on the Start Spreading the News Yankees blog.)

On Thursday night, SSTN writer Michael Saffer and I attended a live taping of Yankees Hot Stove at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey.  It was a great event. 

The theater/studio at the Yogi Berra is a great venue.  It’s small and intimate.  A person in the audience gets the sense that the presenters (in this case the Yankees Hot Stove Team) are actually talking with you – and at times they were.

Located in that studio is a replica Yankee Stadium scoreboard.  (See the picture above.)  Each time I attend an event at the Yogi Berra Museum, I wonder what game that scoreboard is supposed to reflect.  As such, I decided that I would figure it out using the wonderful tools at BaseballReference.com, my Yankees knowledge, and some common sense.

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Saying Goodbye to Matsui & Meb

(This post can also be found on NYY_Report (“Start Spreading the News”):

http://itsaboutthemoney.net/start-spreading-the-news/2017/11/6/saying-goodbye-to-matsui-and-meb)

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We are sports fans.  There is something special and wonderful and unique about being a sports fan.  We love our teams and certain players.  We get excited by special moments.

 And when disappointment hits, it hits hard – and it often hurts. 

Continue reading “Saying Goodbye to Matsui & Meb”

The Judge

(The following passage was included as part of the monthly newsletter that I send out to the parents of my school community.)

It is no secret that I enjoy sports, mostly baseball, and that I have always been a big fan of the New York Yankees.  There is something about baseball that resonates with me.  The ebb and flow of the game, the simplicity, the day-to-day consistency…  Like a good friend, from April through September, baseball is a constant companion.  I love it.

One of the big stories that has come out of this year’s baseball season has been the fact that a rookie on the New York Yankees, a certain Aaron Judge, recently set the record for the most home runs ever hit in one’s first season.  No player had ever hit 50 home runs as a rookie until Aaron Judge accomplished that feat.  Amazing.

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The Houston Astros and You!

(The following is a modified (slightly shortened and less school specific) version of the message I sent to my teaching staff as we begin to prepare for the opening of the 2017-18 school year in a few weeks.  The message applies to all individuals in all walks of life and all professions.)

When I was a child growing up in the late 1970’s, the Houston Astros had very cool uniforms. 

I was a Yankees fan (that is deep-seated in my blood), but there were times when I wished the Yankees could at least be a little more colorful.  I, of course, love the Yankees’ midnight blue pinstripes and the interlocking NY, but for a kid, that Astros rainbow uniform was a lot more eye-catching!

The Astros also were also a pretty unique team.  They played in the only domed stadium (The Astrodome), they played on fake grass (Astroturf), they had exciting players like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, and Cesar Cedeno (pictured above).  The Astros were even featured in one of the Bad News Bears movies!

None of that influenced me enough to be an Astros fan, but it is undeniable that there was a certain appeal to rooting for the Houston Astros. 

Continue reading “The Houston Astros and You!”

One Day Yankee – Floyd Newkirk

(This passage comes from my upcoming book, “The Least Among Them,” a unique and original history of the New York Yankees.  The manuscript is in the editing stage.  Literary agents and/or publishers interested in learning more about this project are encouraged to reach me at drpaulsem AT hotmail dot com.)

Mordecai Brown was an ace pitcher on the Chicago Cubs teams that dominated baseball in the earliest days of the Twentieth Century.  Brown won twenty or more games in six consecutive seasons between 1906 and 1911.  One of baseball’s great pitchers, Mordecai Brown won 239 games.  He was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 1949.  But none of that is why he is remembered today…

As a youngster, Mordecai lost one finger and damaged another during an accident with a feed chopper on a farm.  It was because of these “deformities,” that he became known as “Three Finger” Brown.  Many believed that the unique grip he had on a baseball contributed to his success. But Mordecai Brown was not baseball’s only three-fingered pitcher.

In 1934, the New York Yankees had a prospect named Floyd Newkirk.  Like the great “Three Finger” Brown, Newkirk had only three fingers on his pitching hand.  Like Brown, Floyd lost his two fingers in a childhood accident of his own.  Also like Brown, the injury did not dissuade Floyd Newkirk from playing, and ultimately achieving success, through pitching a baseball.

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