My brother Ed sent me pictures of my nephew Daniel’s first Little League baseball game this year. The boy is 11 and it seems like he’s been playing forever… 4 or 5 years, at least. The kid plays everything… soccer, baseball, deck-hockey, swim team in the summer… He’d play football too, if it were up to him, but his parents, taking note of his bean-pole physique, put the kibosh on that.
He did well last night, though… 2 for 3 at bat, including getting a single in the last inning, stealing second and scoring the winning run.
No matter how big he gets though, and if you have kids you know what I mean, I’ll always see him like this:
My brother has been his Little League manager since last season, much like how our dad was usually our manager when we played Little League.
So Ed was telling me that he had to pull two of his pitchers, because it’s a requirement that if a pitcher hits two batters, you have to take them out.
I couldn’t believe it? What’s baseball coming to, if you can’t even bean a kid? (Although from what my brother said, the other team’s hitters weren’t very adept at ball avoidance.
Anyway, the whole thing cracked me up because when my brother played Little League, he pitched too and was notorious for being wild. In fact, his line score would be like, “walked 9, hit 5 batters, and won 5-2 with a no-hitter.”
One game, he hit the first two batters, right out of the gate. The other manager came over to my dad and said, “Aren’t you going to take him out?”
My dad said, “Why? He’s just getting warmed up.”
It’s no wonder no one could hit him… it’s hard to make contact when your first step is towards third base and out of the batter’s box. Those kids had the fear of God in them every time they stepped in there.
When we lived in Columbus, they had a 2-tiered league for elementary school kids; a major and minor league. I played for the major league team that my dad managed, (The Pirates, of course), and Ed played for the minor league Pirates. If the manager wanted he could call a kid up from the minors if he needed a fill-in, so occasionally Ed and I got to play on the same team.
I used to play 2nd base and pitch. The summer after 6th grade, Dad had to miss the opening game. I pitched and we won that game, with me striking out the last batter, looking. I couldn’t wait for Dad to call home so I could tell him about it. It looked like we were going to have a good team that year.
But looks were deceiving. When Dad joined us for the 2nd game, we began a long losing streak. I used to tell him it was obviously his fault, because we were just fine without him.
I don’t remember how many games we lost, but around mid season, we had a game against the Orioles. We considered this our rivalry game, because the Orioles manager used to be a coach with my dad on a previous team. Dad didn’t really like the guy’s methods… was a little too hopped up on winning, for that age group. And that’s how he ran his Orioles…
His son, Frank Jr., was a big oaf like his dad. Classic, lumbering first baseman, and could hit a ton.
So this was a game we really wanted to win. He had me pitching and the game stayed close. I had one of my better days on the mound. I remember the oaf smashed one right back up the middle and out of blind, dumbass luck, I flung my glove out and it stuck. I totally looked all badass on it. For about a split second.
Unfortnuately, the ball didn’t hit in the webbing, it hit right in the glove’s palm, directly on the knuckle under my index finger. That hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. I think I had to stuff a hanky in there for the rest of the season.
Anyway, it came down to us up by 1 in the bottom of the last inning. They had a runner on first and third, with 2 outs.
I don’t know if it’s like this any more, but back then, when you had runners at the corners, it was basically an automatic steal of 2nd base. Most catchers were instructed not to try for the out because the runner was likely to score from 3rd. So the runner on first would usually just jog down to second.
Dad pulled the infield in for a conference. He said, “Listen, they’re going to steal on the first pitch. Bluz, can you just get one to the catcher and keep it out of the dirt?”
I said yes.
To the catcher, he said, “Tim, can you get the ball down to second on the fly?”
Tim said yes.
He said, “Good. Ronnie, you just make sure you catch the ball and get a tag on that guy. They’ll never see it coming. If we throw him out, it’s game over and we win. Let’s do it.”
We all smiled. We knew it was a gamble, but the game was in our hands and our manager trusted us.
It worked like a charm. I made the pitch, Tim caught it, the runner started jogging down to 2nd and Tim threw a strike to the shortstop, who applied the tag to the surprised runner. Game over; commence celebration. The ice cream was extra special that day!
I played one more year in Columbus and it was most puzzling. All of a sudden, I sucked. Couldn’t hit, couldn’t field. Didn’t know how I could be washed up by 7th grade.
Me, probably swinging through a fastball.
I figured it out two years later when I got glasses. I never realized that I couldn’t see. No wonder I couldn’t hit worth a damn.
I played one more season, before my sophomore year in high school, my first summer after moving up to the farmland outside Toledo. (The place with The Barn.)
All of a sudden, I was pretty good again. Only downside was that no one knew me. I joined the local team kind of late, after everyone was pretty much slotted into their positions. I told the coach that I could play infield and pitch.
Naturally, he put me in the outfield, where I was very successful at not falling down or hurting myself. But I got beaned in my first practice and again in my first game. Probably paying karmically for the sins of my brother.
Then we found ourselves getting killed, one game, because none of our pitchers could throw strikes. They must have walked about a dozen batters.
NOW, finally, the coach sidles up to me and is like, “So you can pitch, huh?”
So in I went, for mop-up duty. Now, I really didn’t know how to “pitch”. I’d just throw the ball as hard as I could and try to get it over the plate. Forget trying to throw curves or anything… or even how to maneuver around the rubber without getting called for a balk. No one ever taught me how to be a pitcher.
Regardless, I could get it over the plate, and that, I did. I was getting hit, but at least we had a chance with the ball in play. We played them even up for the rest of the game, and for the rest of the season, I became a regular pitcher.
Granted, we still sucked. And we were so low-rent we even stooped to the Old Hidden Ball trick on occasion. (It worked, too!)
I still didn’t know how to “pitch”, but I found that if I threw sidearm, the ball would tail into a right handed hitter. So I started playing with varied release points and different windups. My favorite was doing the “Luis Tiant”, who would turn his back to the batter when lifting his leg, then come around and fire. I didn’t do that one very often, but I liked to screw with the batters. (Bagger, you probably know who I’m talking about, but I’m sure no one else does.)
Anyway, it was fun.
Years later, it cracked me up because my Barn buddy Rik was also in the same league. He told me that he’d heard this scuttlebutt that the Monclova Fire Department team had this new pitcher that was supposed to be good.
I was like, “Really? Who was he? I don’t remember anyone that was any good.”
That was my last year of organized sports of any kind. I was at least glad to go out not sucking.