One Last Shot… A Real Life Baseball Story (Part 12 – Game Four, The Story of a Catcher)
Well, I am the happiest 0-4 pitcher on the planet.
I pitched well enough, I guess. I gave up more than a few hard hit balls for loud hits, some of them long drives for extra bases. I also gave up some weak ground balls for hits. And a few bloopers also fell in.
On the other hand, some popups were dropped or missed altogether by the fielders behind me, a few grounders went under the infielders’ gloves, and a few would-be ground outs resulted in poor throws that instead netted no outs.
(And, to be fair, a couple of the loudly hit balls were caught by the fielders behind me. If nothing else, my pitching kept the team on its feet.)
In short, for much of the game, there were a lot of runners on the bases as I pitched.
Maybe it all evens out in the end. I guess it matters little though. We lost. The team is still without a win and the old pitcher they use, now about once a month, is also winless.
That old pitcher, me, of course, is 0-4.
I am starting to think that it might be more fun to win these games rather than lose all the time.
But I don’t think so.
I think the following quote sums it all up best.
After the game, I was talking to my catcher. I asked how my pitches looked. The catcher looked at me and said:
“You had nothing today…
Win, lose, tie… who cares? Today I had one of those days that will live in my heart forever.
The catcher was my son, Ethan.
There is nothing better than that.
In life, we have to seize the opportunities when we can make memories like this. And this was something special.
Today I played competitive baseball with my son.
Nothing, nothing, nothing could be better than that.
Today I was the pitcher and my son was the catcher.
Ethan was with me at the start of this crazy journey four months ago.
When I first said to him, “Hey, when I pick you up at college for spring break, please make sure you leave your glove out. I might join a baseball league and I’d love to have a catch with you,” Ethan was already on-board.
I remember then meeting Ethan at the entrance to his dorm when I arrived at Lafayette College to pick him up. Before we packed the car, before we did anything, we went to a quiet part of the campus, an empty sidewalk area in fact, and had the catch that started this journey.
During that catch, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a real pitcher again… 34 years after I last threw a baseball with the hopes of getting out actual hitters.
“Hey Ethan, do you think I can actually pitch in a baseball league?”
A long time ago, just once before, Ethan and I sort-of played together in a baseball game. It wasn’t quite the same thing. In that game, I was the catcher and he was the pitcher.
I have no photographs from the event. I wish I did. I only have the memories.
This was Little League baseball. I was Ethan’s coach, which was pretty typical as I coached all my kids throughout their rec baseball years. This was probably the fourth grade baseball league one of the first years when kids pitched. It was later in the game and we ran out of players. Ethan, who had been catching, was getting his chance to pitch. With no one able to catch him, I ventured behind the plate to be his personal catcher.
I’ve always been a kid at heart. At about forty years old, I was probably the oldest kid ever to play recreation-level baseball.
I’ve always held that silly memory close to my heart. I figured at the time, and for years after, that that would be the only time that Ethan and I would ever play on the same baseball team together. It was a silly, but special moment…
Today that all changed.
Today we played real baseball against a real team in a real league.
Yeah, I got shelled. I had nothing today.
It matters little.
Yes, this is a 35-years old and over league and, yes, Ethan is only 20-years old. But there is a rule in this league that allows each team to field up to four players under 35 in a game. Those younger players are not permitted to pitch or catch, but the other team allowed us to make an exception for Ethan to play catcher.
Later we learned that Ethan wasn’t even the youngest player on the field. One player on the other team was only 16-years old!
Outside of the fielding miscues, our team played great. We actually took a quick lead in the first inning (1-0) – the team’s very first lead of the season.
I gave that lead up, and more, in the bottom of the first inning, but we kept battling. At one point, after three innings, we narrowed the score to 5-4. I’ll say this, there is a collection of guys on our team that can hit. Hit, with a capital H. There were quite a few booming doubles smashed into the gaps and a bunch of screaming line drives. For a while, we gave our opponents, the Jersey City Knights, a good run for their money.
If only I was able to keep the other guys from scoring…
One special player on our team today hit a bomb. The shot, off his lefty bat, had to go about 300 feet for a long double. He later scored on a single.
Yeah, that was Ethan.
When he got to the bench, he said, “That’s why we play. How fun was that?!”
Pershing Field in Jersey City is a wonderful place for a baseball game. The field is gorgeous. The infield dirt was dragged and raked before the game. The bases and the pitching rubber were painted white (as they are before every game). The baselines and the batter’s box were lined. The infield grass was freshly cut. There were dugouts and bullpens. The entire field was surrounded by a high fence that (even with my poor pitching) no batter was able to hit one out of (despite the relatively short outfield dimensions – the left field fence was a mere 288 feet away down the line).
The venue was also terrific. From home plate, a batter can see the Freedom Tower in Manhattan just over the hill beyond the neighboring buildings. And from the pitcher’s mound in the bullpen area, I was able to admire the wonderful Empire State Building.
The Knights, while they shellacked us in the end, were a fun group to play against. They were a happy bunch, laughing, enjoying the game of baseball. They played hard and they played well, but they never rubbed it in when they started to pound us. They stopped taking the extra base. They didn’t steal bases. They played the game right.
In a small way, it felt like a minor league game. Each player on the Knights had a walk-up song played as he batted. They often played other stadium sound effects during the game. They even played YMCA after 4 1/2 innings. The fans danced. The atmosphere was great.
It was a lot of fun.
We only had 11 players, so I didn’t think it was right for me to get a DH. As I result, I batted. This was the first time I tired to hit a baseball in an actual game in 34 years.
In my first at bat, I grounded out hard to second base – a small victory. I actually put the bat on the ball.
In my other two at bats, against a different pitcher, a guy who threw HARD… I whiffed. In one at bat he threw me a slow curveball that I swung through before it even reached the plate.
My winning percentage and my batting average read the same – .000.
My Achilles still kills. I’m trying to play softball and run at least once a week through the pain.
A few weeks ago I had a MRI. There were words in the report that said “interstitial tears” and “tendinosis.” I will visit an orthopedist on Tuesday to make sense of it all.
Through the great work of my sports-injury doctor/chiropractor, the Achilles tendon is starting to feel better, but my progress is slow. Before this I was always a quick healer. (Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s the fact that I have run tens of thousands of miles. Maybe I’m just wearing out.)
I ran (and walked) 6.2 miles on Saturday (the day before the game) and then, later in the day, enjoyed walking to the store with my beautiful wife. When I overdo it, as I did on Saturday, my healing (obviously) takes big steps backwards.
I’ve been in pain ever since.
But I also don’t know how to stop.
I have to play ball. And I have to run. (The New York City Marathon is only 136 days away… and I’m still hoping to run it.)
A smart person would rest the injury. A smart person would sit out the baseball and softball seasons. A smart person would look eagerly toward the 2020 New York City Marathon.
I’m not that smart.
It had been a month since I last pitched in a game, and although Ethan and I still throw once or twice a week (On various baseball fields all around this area), because of the frenetic pace of life, I have not been practicing my pitching as often.
Is that why I wasn’t as sharp today?
Now that it is summer, I need to get back into a routine of throwing a baseball on a regular basis.
I have at least one more start this season. My next start will come on July 14.
I hope that Ethan will be my catcher again, for at least part of the game. ..
I have loved every minute of this experience of being a pitcher again, but today’s game I loved most of all.
Previous installments of this series can be found here:
This entire series (and a host of other original writing and motivational pieces) can also be found at www.drpaulsem.com