A buddy and I attended a minor league game a month ago. We sought shelter from the sun in a covered picnic area in left field, giving us the perfect view of speed zone.
Speed zone is that booth where you pay an attendant two dollars to throw three pitches toward a dummy catcher, trying to prove you belong in the big leagues, but when the radar gun flashes 47, you realize you belong in the left field stands.
I certainly wasn’t going to try to prove myself. No ER visits for me, thank you.
A few kids gave it the old college try and some of them had better arms than me.
I learned later that one kid, who was in the 13 and under category, hit 67 earlier that day. I was a pitcher when I was fifteen and I’m sure I never hit that speed.
An older man (maybe 60 years old) offered the young attendant his two dollars and reached for three baseballs.
He wound his arm around several times, as if he were waving a runner home from third. I had a feeling that no amount of stretching was going to help.
He put his left hand on his right shoulder in his final warm-ups, as if he feared his shoulder might explode with his first attempt to hit 90 miles per hour.
He went into his first windup and stepped forward to unleash the fury.
His first pitch was high. Very high and pretty slow.
His second and third pitches bounced.
A woman behind him glanced up at the speed gun and laughed. That’s never good. But maybe it was his wife and maybe she was laughing with him.
Yeah, I don’t believe that either.
As he walked away, he wound his arm again in windmill fashion and grabbed his shoulder. I bet he felt it the next day. And maybe the one after that.
Another man, maybe in his 40s, sailed three pitches over the dummy catcher, hitting the top of the tarp. He, too, grabbed his shoulder after his turn.
A little boy with Down syndrome, who was maybe five, was next. What happened next is the most precious sight you’ll ever see.
He took a few steps in so he was closer to the plate. He wrapped the ball behind his back and looked for a sign from the dummy catcher. Once he got it – a fastball, no doubt – he came set. Apparently, he’d inherited a runner or two, so he was pitching from the stretch.
The game was on the line.
His first pitch hit the catcher’s mask.
After getting ahead, his second pitch bounced in front of home plate in an attempt to get the dummy battery to chase it. Sure enough, he did (at least in my mind). A swing and a miss.
His mom only bought three chances, so he’d need to go for the strikeout with his remaining ball.
He lofted the pitch, LaLob style. Somewhere, Dave LaRoche was applauding – even though he hasn’t toed the slab since 1983. This kid must come from good stock – a mom or dad who is teaching him the history of the game.
The dummy batter had no idea what he was looking at as the ball fell from the sky. He swung three seconds before it reached home plate.
Yeah, I have an imagination. But that’s the best part of going to a baseball game.
By the way, if you haven’t seen LaRoche pitch, you’ll want to check out this video: