Let's face it — anyone who has seen baseball and enjoyed it even a little bit, wants to get up there and pitch. For all the glamour of hitting home runs, the pitcher is the guy at the absolute centre of the game. He even gets to stand on a little hill, for heaven's sake. It's what everybody wants to know when you tell them you play baseball: are you a pitcher? And finally this season, several players — including your humble correspondent — have made their debut and got a taste of what it is all about.
I always knew I wouldn't become a regular pitcher. I don't throw the ball hard, I am not a big, strong guy, and I don't have Timmy Lincecum's freakish ability to overcome a small frame with fantastic mechanics. But I never gave up hope! This year, in our Opening Day blowout by Southampton, the opportunity finally arose for me to tug the manager's sleeve and say “Hey, put me in”. And I enjoyed every second of it. Really, really enjoyed it. The game follows your rhythm, the fielders watch you, the runners watch you, the hitters watch you. The game is yours to win, and to lose. Maybe even Timmy remembers with fondness the first time he stood on the mound…
Although I enjoyed it, that's not to say I was happy with the results, not by a long shot. But it wasn't a disaster. I told the team before we went out that my aim was to throw strikes, and let the hitter earn his way on base — not to toss him BP, you understand, but not to get caught out by trying to be too fine. And I honestly don't remember walking anyone, although I assume I must have done. So I will count that in my favour. There were hits, certainly. I remember one strong double going into left field. But there were also three outs. The first was a ground ball to our infielders who had a a really good day at Southampton. The second was — oh yes — a strike-out. Why didn't I buy that ball off the Mustangs! I struck someone out!! And then I also helped make the final out — a towering pop-up which I lost about four times in the sun, then bobbled as it came down, only to be rescued by Phil Gover, alert on the infield, standing next to me — he promptly caught it cleanly.
I am happy to be my own toughest critic and so I can tell you that I singularly failed to ignore the batter. I did feel constrained, and ended up trying to place the ball into the zone, rather than throwing it through. That meant that more than one pitch bounced on the plate! I didn't focus enough on the glove, despite years standing in the outfield shouting to the pitcher to just “put it in the glove”. I never imagined it was that easy but now I know for sure.
The Raptors manager this year, Ken, has laudably decided that people should be given the chance to step on to the mound as well as stepping up to the plate. Jeff is our only “veteran” pitcher and so, as well as me, there have been first timers in Bryan Drummond, Jim Arnott, Ken himself and Phil Gover. I know they have all enjoyed it and will gladly go back for more, and I will be right there with them. Phil has been this week's phenom. “Such a great feeling” was how he summed up the experience. “Pretty stunning” was what the manager said. I suspect he, like me, will long remember the feeling when he took the game ball in his hand, and stepped to the heart of the action.