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One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 7: We Don’t Always Win the Games We Win

by Paul Semendinger

June 26, 2021

***

I’m a middling middle age pitcher who has been confined quite often this year to the middle innings.

I am pitching in two different baseball leagues.

In the league with the Ridgewood team, the team I have been with for three years, I have been splitting the starting duties with a pitcher named Sam, the new guy we picked up last year. Truth be told (and I always tell the truth), Sam is a better pitcher than me. He throws harder. His balls have better movement. His curve ball… actually curves.

After my complete game victory last month, I pitched three innings of mop-up ball in a loss to Morristown and then started a game (actually on the field behind the school where I work) and lasted but four innings in a game we also lost.

Middling. Nothing better. (It’s frustrating.)

In the league where I am a rookie, with the team from Westwood, I play for the Rangers, I have learned that the quality of play from league to league, even among older guys (35-years-old +) varies greatly. There is baseball and then there is highly competitive baseball. This team feels like the pros – partially because the league has numerous former pros playing on some teams. Because of the high skill level, these games are played at a different level of intensity. The ball is pitched faster and hit harder. I often think that I am the worst player out there. And I probably am.

For the this team, I have pitched twice, both in middle inning mop-up roles. My results have been mixed. In total, before the game a few days ago, I had pitched six innings. In four of those innings I allowed no runs. In the other two… they scored a lot of runs.

***

In this Westwood league, when the ball hits the catchers glove, you hear a loud SNAP! (Not from me, from the other pitchers.)

In the Westwood league, when the guys hit the ball, the bat has a loud CRACK!

Everything is louder. Everything is faster.

I don’t know if I belong out there.

Or, I didn’t until last night…

***

I always pray before pitching each inning. I pray a little harder for my safety in the Westwood games.

***

Last Thursday night (we play under the lights), I arrived at the field and was greeted by one of the players, subbing for the coach who said, “I hope you have nine innings in you.”

I replied, “Am I starting?”

The response, “You’re the only pitcher I’ve got” wasn’t all that encouraging. The next response, “And I don’t want any b___ s___ innings either” also didn’t boost my confidence.

I replied, “I’ll give you everything I’ve got.”

And I did.

But it wasn’t easy.

***

In the top of the first, I middled around and gave up two runs, partly because of an error and some sloppy play, but I also didn’t do particularly well. The outs weren’t hit softly.

It was in the second that I almost quit.

They scored four runs. Line drives, gappers, balls crushed. It was ugly. I stood on the mound and thought to myself, “What am I doing here? As I was being crushed, I seriously considered just walking off the mound and going home. I wouldn’t really do that, but it seemed clear that I was in well over my head and that I just couldn’t succeed in this league.

My dream was over.

After two innings we were down 6-0. It wasn’t all my fault, but it was mostly my fault.

And then, well, then I became a pitcher – a real life, solid, “I Can Do This!” pitcher.

In between innings, I sat with Joe, my catcher. We went over the signs again. (I won’t give away our secrets here.) I had to be honest (as I always am) with him. “I don’t really have anything. My curveball doesn’t curve, I don’t throw hard… I can just throw strikes, mostly.”

He told me that I had to at least try the curve and to change speeds better. “They’re all over your fastball,” he said. And they were.

I told him that I would do whatever he said. “You call the pitches, I’ll try to throw them. Set the spots and I’ll try to hit your glove.”

And something remarkable happened…

The curves started curving, the fastball had some (if not much) bite, and my off-speed stuff was just slow enough to be a little different from the “fastball.” The other team stopped crushing every strike I threw.

I wasn’t perfect. But I wasn’t an embarrassment either.

I gave up no runs in the third.

One in the fourth.

None in the fifth.

None in the sixth.

I did allow two in the seventh. (I don’t complain about balls and strike calls, but I have to say that I struck out what would have been the last batter of the inning on a curve ball and the umpire didn’t give me the call. The two runs came after that.)

None in the eighth.

And none in the ninth.

I struck out a few guys also.

Over the final seven innings, I allowed just three runs.

I pitched and pitched and pitched. I followed Joe’s signs. I threw as hard as I could. I stood out there and gave it everything I had.

And I found that even against the toughest ballplayers I ever pitched against, I have a little something.

I stood among the giants.

***

What’s that saying? It’s from The Godfather… “To make one’s bones” – to establish credibility…

Well, I made my bones on Thursday night.

They needed a guy to throw all nine innings. I did just that.

I had to have thrown over 150 pitches. I just kept gutting it out pitcher after pitch.

Make no mistake, we lost, and that’s on me, but over the last seven innings, we actually out scored our opponent 5-3.

***

My son Ethan came with me to the game. He was a constant source of encouragement and support. He helped my confidence. It was great to have him there.

I didn’t want him to see me fail.

I hope he comes to a lot more games (he can’t play in this league like he does with me in Ridgewood – they don’t allow any under-35 exemptions) but it was great having him on the bench with me.

I am glad he got to experience all of this with me.

***

Because we had only nine guys, I also had to bat.

The opposing pitcher threw in the 80’s. He also hit two of our batters before I ever got up. I usually don’t hit in any league and had never faced one of these hard throwers. The idea of batting didn’t thrill me. I’ve never stood in against an 80+ MPH fastball.

After striking out in my first at bat, I actually grounded out in my next one. Then, against our opponent’s next pitcher, I actually singled to left before popping out to third in my final at bat.

Me getting a clean hit might have been the craziest thing of all.

***

I didn’t win the game, but sometimes we win in other ways.

I’m writing this on Friday morning, about six hours after my last pitch of the night. Ethan and I came home, he wrapped my arm in ice, and I rested a bit before heading off to sleep.

I didn’t sleep much, but when I dreamed, I know I dreamed about baseball. (I’m not sure how well I was doing in my dreams, but I know I was at a game. It wasn’t a restful sleep. I was too hyped up, I guess.)

I am tired. My body is tired.

But my arm feels remarkably good.

There is no pain, only some minor soreness.

I had planned to run a few miles for my morning workout, but I might just ride the exercise bike instead to give my body a little respite. I can run this evening, if the desire is there.

I won’t throw at all.

I’m pitching on Sunday, for the Ridgewood team.

If my curveball works again, I just might have some success.

Oh, and I’m coaching the team on Sunday so I’m hoping to get Ethan behind the plate to catch me for at least an inning.

***

I love baseball.

I still have hopes that the Yankees will come calling…

***


Previous Season Three Posts:

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 1: This Time It’s For Real

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 2: My Spring Training

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 3: Back To Earth

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 4: Finally, I Hope…

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 5: Game 1 Results And A Surprise Draft Pick!

One Last Shot – Season 3, Post 6: The Ups and Downs of Baseball

***

Previous Season Posts:

Season One – The Complete First Season

Season Two – The Complete Second Season

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