It was the summer of 1975, Elton John was frequently on the radio between several “Disco Classics”… and the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds for you youngins) was steaming to the first of consecutive World Series Championships. And down in the Yakima Valley, a young man was trying to regain his glory years as a pitcher from back when he was a Little League star. Actually, I should now quit writing about myself in the third person as it is starting to sound rather pompous…
Okay, truth be told, I wasn’t exactly a pitching phenom in Little League, but I could throw strikes and generally get guys out… and I loved playing that position.
As the years went by, while everyone else seemed to grow considerably in size, my growth spurt would not appear until well after the ball had been taken out of my hand for pitching duties. (Most coaches seemed impressed with big kids who could throw hard.) However, I was not content with being a weak hitting middle infielder during my junior year of high school, so I was determined to get back on the hill and make a difference for Sunnyside the following year. That would require seasoning with my first, (and only) year of American Legion Baseball.
During my first relief appearance early that summer, I recall the coach taking the slow stroll to the mound after I had walked the bases loaded. He didn’t make me feel particularly bad as he chuckled when raising the question, “What the hell good are you as a pitcher if you can’t throw a strike?”
I couldn’t disagree with that statement. Undaunted, as the season progressed I practiced and pitched occasionally showing signs of improvement. Late in the season we were matched up against the dreaded Yakima Beetles, a storied program with seemingly men on their roster instead of boys. A team that would later in the summer win the National Championship in Rapid City, South Dakota.
On that hot summers night at impressive Parker Field in Yakima, I had barely settled into my usual position on the end of the bench before all heck started breaking loose. Our fine young starting pitcher was puckered so tight the mascot had to run for cover ( I could be taking a few liberties here… but, you get the picture.) Bottom line was, he couldn’t find the strike zone with the “deer in the headlights look “ in his eyes, and when he did, it was hit hard. Much to my surprise the coach looked down the bench and said; “Pease get warmed up!” About that time I was wishing I had packed an extra pair of undies in my duffle bag.
A hand full of runs had already crossed the plate when I entered the game in the first inning. As I warmed up on the field there were a few jeers from the Beetle bench. Most conspicuously, “who suited up the fungo!” with regard to my beanpole stature.
Two runners were on base when I promptly gave up a home run to the first batter I faced (their number 9 hitter.) Chuckles turned to outright belly laughs for the Yakima squad when the next batter stepped into the box and I inexplicably went back into the stretch without anybody on base. (Certainly not a big deal in today’s game with the shift in the role of relief pitchers.) That night, in that era… I’m sure I looked like a dork.
With tears welling up in my eyes I thought to regroup at the back of the mound. Whatever I said to myself, I wish I could remember so there would be some redeeming value to this story. It could have been something that would make Jamie Moyer proud, (throw smarter, not harder…?) The inning ended without further incident, and by the grace of God I didn’t give up another run the rest of the game.
In retrospect, I’m sure it helped that everyone in their lineup was swinging from their arse to try and hit another home run! (Sorry to say, there was no Hollywood ending. We did not come back and win the game, I’m not even sure we scored a run against that machine.) However, it ended as a challenging and relatively fun evening that helped shape my rather odd baseball career.
By the way, several of the Beetles went on to play professional ball, most notably… Jamie Allen and Dave Edler with the Mariners.
As for me, my senior year didn’t amount to much because I broke my finger playing second base about 5 or 6 games into the season. College ball at Eastern really was a fluke. I made the team for some charitable reason, and was used sparingly for 4 years… but I kept at the craft through the years.
Today I’m still pitching in the 35+ baseball league of the Inland Empire and holding my own. Two years ago at age 50, I led the National Tournament (48+ Division) in strikeouts and was third in ERA. Still, every once in awhile I go into the stretch with no runners on base, but that’s now more from old age instead of being flustered.