Every day new pressures sprout in the little petri dish of sports, all of our own concoction.
Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, seventh game of the World Series. The 12-foot putt to win the Masters. The penalty kick to decide the World Cup – and how to celebrate in such a way that somebody won’t be offended.
And now, batting practice with $1 million on the line.
Except that the real heat isn’t on slugger Christian Yelich and the rest who will dig in Monday night in Cleveland for baseball’s Home Run Derby.
It’s on Pat Shine, who has to groove all those gopher balls to baseball’s home run leader.
Face it, you don’t want to be the caddie who hands his golfer the wrong club. Or the field-goal holder who doesn’t get the laces out.
So it’s no surprise that Shine headed out from Spokane for his assignment five days early to hook up with Yelich, the Milwaukee outfielder who’s belted 31 dingers this year. The two will practice, uh, batting practice before each of the Brewers’ games in Pittsburgh this weekend. On Friday, that resulted in Yelich shattering a window of a houseboat moored in the Allegheny River beyond the walls of PNC Park and putting four other balls into the drink.
Just another day in the life of Pat Shine, BP pitcher to the stars.
Making him an All-Star of a sort, too, for the third time in four years – even if he no longer wears a uniform.
It was a little over a year ago that Shine returned to Spokane and called an end to a baseball odyssey he launched after his playing days at Gonzaga University. It had taken him through coaching stops at his alma mater (Gonzaga Prep), colleges (UC Irvine, UCLA, Cal) and all the way to the big leagues, when his childhood pal Mike Redmond brought him aboard the staff of the Miami Marlins to be the video replay coordinator and a bench assistant.
And to throw a little BP.
“I’d throw every day,” he said. “My first year, I threw to the third group – the reserves – and then years 2 and 3, I threw to the first group, the starters and better hitters. And Ichiro. He got to be in the first group out of respect. Then I’d go back in the cage inside and throw to guys who needed more.
“Hey, if that’s my role and I’m in the big leagues, I’m game for more. It’s not like they’re going to run out of Advil and ice for my arm.”
The cage is for finding consistency and confidence, and Shine knew how to locate the barrel of a hitter’s bat.
“I do throw good BP – for all my limited ability as a player,” Shine allowed. “It probably helps that I’m only about 5-foot-10, so there’s no down angle and it comes in pretty flat. It’s easy to time.”
So when Giancarlo Stanton, then with the Marlins, was invited to hit in the 2016 Home Run Derby, he took Shine along to San Diego to serve them up.
Now, those were simpler Derby days – which is to say, there was no prize money. That didn’t seem to lessen Stanton’s drive.
“It was really important to him and he’s an intense guy,” Shine said. “In the weeks leading up to it, I’d pass him on the field and he’d say, “You’d better be ready to bring back some hardware.
“What do I say to that? He’s 6-6 and 260 pounds looking down on me. All I could manage was, ‘I’ll be there, man.’ ”
Stanton was a feared slugger from the time he reached the majors at age 20, but he’d missed the last half of the 2015 season with a broken hand and had struggled through May and June of 2016. Shine sensed that it was “an opportunity for him to have some fun on the field again.”
But in the finals against defending champion Todd Frazier, Stanton had just six homers in the first 90 seconds of the four-minute round and called a timeout. Fourteen straight dingers followed, and Stanton was Derby champion – his 61 total still a record.
Stanton asked Shine back again in 2017, but couldn’t get out of the first round. Then Yelich, whose baseball star rose in Miami, accepted an invitation this year and coaxed Shine back into uniform.
“I put in 24 years chasing the game and I loved it for 24 years, but it was time to get back home,” said Shine, who took a job here with Arthur J. Gallagher and Co. “It was important to be close to my parents and it’s fun to go to Jack and Dan’s for lunch and see people that I haven’t seen for years. But it’s nice getting a taste of baseball again, too.”
And the pressure. Who’d have thought he’d find it throwing batting practice?
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