Pasttime – 25

“I still want to throw that pitch!”

Scheduled time with Steve is mandatory. Down time with Steve is mandatory. Free time with Steve is optional.

There’s some freedom. This isn’t football.

Relievers usually don’t get as much time with the pitching coach, but he’s good at getting with all of us.

“I still want to throw that pitch!”

Obviously we talk pitching; which includes how to pitch to batters on the next team we’re facing.

Scouting reports exist for long conversations in back rooms of ball parks across the land as former pitchers talk to current pitchers about how to get guys out.

“I still want to throw that pitch!”

I respect Steve. I respect his knowledge of the game. I respect and admire what’s he’s done, both on and off the field.

And while we’ve only been working together for a couple of seasons before this, I thought spring training brought us closer.

And by that, I mean I think he’s got a much better understanding what I can do but also how he can make me even better.

But regardless what anything says, I think I can freeze Marcus Braxton with an inside changeup.

Steve is bringing up his stats and showing me his hot zones. We’ve got video of his swing against that pitch and the analytic numbers to throw more cement on the foundation of his argument against throwing that pitch.

But despite all that, he hasn’t convinced me. In fact, I would argue that he’s talked me into it even more.

“I still want to throw that pitch!”

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Pasttime – 24

We were all starters wants. We all were the east on the Little League team, the high school team, the AAU/travel ball/Pony League team.

We were all The Guy.

Only a small number still are. And for the majority of the world, that’s fine.

But for anyone in a major league bullpen, what could’ve been is always staring right at you.

At some point, someone told all of us that we weren’t good enough. It wasn’t that we weren’t good. They always admit that we are good; but just not good enough.

Because at the end of the day, its about getting major league batters out.

For some, they only have one pitch that can do that. For others, it’s two. And you can’t get big leaguers out with stuff like that for more than an inning.

For pitchers like me, it’s a length issue. Meaning the second time a batter sees my stuff, Skip and the Suits and everyone has decided that I’m not as good at getting them out.

It was tough the first time I was told that. But like a Band-Aid, the biggest pain is on the initial rip.

But the scar that’s left still hurts from time to time.

Pasttime – 23

I’d love to sell you some magic beans, a bridge in Brooklyn or tell you that I was able to make it out of the inning unscathed.

But the next batter took a 2-1 inside fastball the opposite way for a single to score another run and put runners at the corners.

Still no sign from Skip. It’s early enough in the year that he’s just looking to see what we have. To get a feel for us for this year.

Kind of like an audition…and regardless what I’ve done in the past, regardless of what I did in spring training or my first couple of appearances this year, I’m auditioning for Skip and I’m bombing big time.

Like a comic telling joke after joke that gets more coughs than laughs.

But the beauty of baseball is the outcome of the next pitch is a surprise. And surprise, I throw a 2-2 change up over the outside that freezes the guy at the plate.

I don’t know what he was looking for, but I can tell you that that pitch was supposed to be inside and end up by his feet. Instead it floats across about mid-thigh and I’m so giddy he didn’t swing, I almost start towards the dugout.

I’m able to do just that on my next pitch. Guess this guy thought I would throw a first-pitch fastball. Instead, he got the cut and hits it softly to second base.

Inning over.

Pasttime – 22

The essence of immediacy, otherwise known as the need for speed, has infiltrated the game I love.

Baseball is a slow-moving sport, similar to the Western wave of migration in the United States starting in the late 19th century after the War of Northern Aggression created a new breed of American, one dealing with the loss of not just 2 percent of the population but of the innocence of ignorance.

Because if you didn’t know it was wrong to enslave someone or that charging across a wide-open field into rifle fire was insane, then you were baptized in blood and left to pick up the pieces.

I think about the men that moved and marched miles away from anything they had ever known, only to arrive someplace else and attempt to kill complete strangers that, for the most part, looked and sounded just like them.

Both the Union and Confederate armies were plagued by deserters, who somewhat wisely recognized that it would be easier to disappear and change a name than get killed fighting another man’s war.

I don’t have that option as I walk back from behind the plate towards the mound. I can’t leave. I can’t desert my team and there’s no one coming to help me.

I know I’ve romanticized and glorified what is essentially a grown man being paid handsomely to play a child’s game, but this is my life.

And long innings like this are as annoying to the players on the field as it is to those in the stands and the millions watching from home.

 

Pasttime – 21

All pitchers have intent with every pitch.

It may seem like we want each one to go past the batter, but the dream scenario is a 27-pitch, 27-out perfect game where each hitter swings at the first pitch and sends a slow roller to first base.

While that is completely unrealistic, it is a dream; a vision of hope.

Every pitcher hopes when they whip their head around, following the fly ball that just left the plate, that the trajectory isn’t rising towards the moon or racing towards the gap.

This fly ball is doing neither. It’s just drifting enough that the runner at third will tag. After a moment to recollect my thoughts, I race to get behind the catcher and back up the play.

From this angle, I can see the entire field and have a great view to watch the runner I allowed on base track the ball and head back to third.

I watch my guy in right field set up, hesitating so his forward momentum will be with the throw…

And I watch the infielders lining up to prevent the runner at second from moving up. We’re going to concede the run and with a four-run lead (about to be three), that’s the smart play.

It doesn’t mean I have to be happy with it.

Pasttime – 20

I’ve woken up naked in a strange bed before. The times I can’t remember how I got there vary from the personification of immaturity to the results of bad decisions.

But there’s universal agreement that it’s not the ideal situation.

The cliche answer to what to do in that situation – don’t – actually works here in the literal. The best move is to not do anything and allow the situation to dictate your response.

It’s not like you should be making any quick moves anyway, being naked in a strange bed.

The next step is deal with what’s in front of you, with the one major problem first and go from there.

It could be finding some pants, locating your phone or a slow-footed 6-3 catcher with pull power and a tendency to strike out.

And while a strike out would be ideal, I’m longing for the pitcher’s best friend – the double play.

It’s a symbol for everything that is great about this game. It ends momentum and can spark your offense. The exaltation within a dugout after an inning-ending DP is only multiplied if our guy starts our frame by getting on.

God forbid he goes yard and we’re at home. The crowd releases the built-up tension into positivity and any of the 25 would be lying if they said they can’t feel it.

We might not be at home, but a DP on the road is even better; creating silence where there was once noise.

That’s my goal and I’m hoping working the outside with off-speed will get him to either miss or flail and roll something to second.

Not get something in the air towards right field.

Pasttime – 19

Skip’s pretty good about making us clean up our own mess.

Well, the more professional term is holding players accountable for their actions. But it’s the same either way; I’ve got two men on, nobody out and no one is coming to help me.

I’m not looking for help. Well, I could have used some from the ump on that last pitch – a fastball that apparently was a little too inside.

I can feel the slider grip slipping in my hand on the next pitch. I’m just thankful that it spun away as opposed to flatting out. If it’s the latter, I would be collecting a new ball. Instead, it’s just ball four and the bases are loaded.

I don’t even look at Skip.

I just look down to 2 and nod. He nods back and I know I’ll get out of this OK.

That and we have a four-run lead, so unless this goes completely off the rails, I’m not going to blow this for the entire team.

Just my ERA and any chance of keeping my press streak at 8 games. As a long reliever, unless you’re a talker, you rarely want to talk to the press.

There are a few beat reporters that I’m friendly with, but it’s only when you do bad that everyone wants to talk to you.

And that’s never any fun.