After years of playing softball at a competent level, I began to think about playing baseball again. It had been over a quarter-century since the last time I walked off the field in a league baseball game. When a friend mentioned he was playing in a San Diego Adult Baseball League this summer, and the team was looking for players, I decided to go for it.
It had been a long time since I hit a baseball, and I was concerned my softball swing/stance might not translate to the baseball diamond. I figured, however, that I could fix this by going to the cages a lot and working on things. One thing always led to another, and with the season less than 2 weeks from starting I still hadn’t made it to the cages to hit. My wife, who saw things a little clearer than I did at this point (and wasn’t encumbered by the illusions I had about ‘hitting’s hitting – I’ll figure it out), suggested I go and get some coaching on hitting.
I took a week of leave from the Navy to take care of some other business. If I was going to get some instruction, that week would be the best time to do it. She signed me up for 3 hitting lessons at the Gonzalez Sports Academy.
It’s a good thing I did that. The instruction was great. Turns out, my mentor was David Gonzalez Jr, Adrian Gonzalez’s older brother. I learned a ton during the sessions about hitting.
- I could never figure out why I was seeing the ball fine but not making contact. This happens a little bit when I play softball. David had me keep my front foot down and try to hit the ball. Five consecutive swings with good contact. What’s going on? Apparently, lifting my front foot Matt Holliday-style was throwing off my vision sufficiently to where I could see the ball, but the bounce messed up my hand/eye coordination. So I’m now standing in the box Jim Edmonds-style and not stepping. Better contact. Problem solved.
- That old adage about lining up the second knuckles on your top and bottom hand? I’d quit doing that at all. Lining them up meant I removed a hump in my swing that was helping me miss the ball.
- A little bit of a hip flex so I can still generate some power, even without a stride.
- I’ve been pulling everything hard to right for years. Why? Because I was yanking my front shoulder open and hitting with my upper body instead of my hands. That’s a work in progress, but I’m starting to hit things to the opposite field and straight away.
- MAN it felt good to get back into the cage again.
So after 3 half-hour sessions, I felt pretty confident. Unfortunately the first game was still over a week away, which left ample time for atrophy of skills. I went back in and hit a little bit last Friday, and although I made contact, I was hitting everything foul either down the lines or straight back. No confidence going into the first game.
But, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
So Sunday finally rolls around. I won’t tell you what I spent on new equipment, but I picked up a new glove (since my Ken Griffey Jr model is irrepairably stretched to catch softballs now), new pants, and new cleats. I was smart enough to buy cleats without spikes so I can wear them for softball too. I’ve had an Easton Reflex sitting in the closet for over 10 years, never been used in a game. Couldn’t wait to try it out. Our coach wanted us at the field an hour before game time (first game and all), which was good to get some of the nerves out.
Of course this was the hottest weekend in San Diego to date this summer.
The game starts. I’m in RF but get no action through 3 innings. I’m hitting 8th in the lineup by request; let’s not get too crazy. First AB is in the top of the third, one out, bases empty.
- First pitch – Fastball high, ball one. Speed is good, I can hit this guy
- Second pitch – Fastball outside, called strike one. Looked off the plate. Whatever, I’m not swinging at a pitcher’s pitch.
- Third pitch – Some kind of off-speed (probably a change up), called strike two. Looked further off the plate. Be patient.
- Fourth pitch – Faster fastball outside, called strike three. That pitch was definitely off the plate. Crap.
Funny how little things changed. I used to strike out a lot, here we go again. Back on the bench, my buddy tells me ‘hey they call a wide strike zone in this league.’ That would have been nice to know 5 pitches ago. Not a big deal, but filed away for later.
The game continues. This league allows substitutions like softball – you can swap defenders whenever, so long as they’re in the lineup. I’m out. They score 4 in the bottom of the fourth. We get 2 back in the top of the fifth, and with two out and a man on third I step in again.
Now he got me out by throwing everything away, so naturally I go up there looking for an outside pitch. You know what this means – first one is up and in. Hello! Ball one. The next one he leaves over the plate. Gotta swing at that one. It heads for the hole between first and second…
…and on into right for a base hit. Run scores. 4-3. I start grinning halfway down the line.
New problem, however – not only have I forgotten how big a lead to take, I’ve forgotten what to watch for on the pitcher to determine if he’s going to throw over. I take the shortest lead in history. Bruce Bochy took a larger lead than the one I took here. I’d bounce off the bag once the pitcher entered his wind-up, but no lead. The last hitter flies out to end the threat.
The game continues on. My next at bat (new pitcher) I walk on 5 pitches to load the bases, but we score only one run. Eventually we take a 7-6 lead into the ninth. I lead off the frame against the third pitcher, look a ball one inside and low, then hit the next pitch to straight away CF for a flyout. Our opponent comes back with two in the bottom of the inning, and we lose 8-7.
What did I take away from all this? My defense is a little spotty, I kicked two balls in RF although no damage was done. I swung the bat twice and made contact both times – looks like the lessons paid off in a big way. Amazingly, I’m still carrying hitting futility baggage from all those years ago. I was actually SURPRISED I put the ball in play twice. You’d think several years of successful hitting would have cured that forever, I guess not. I think actually driving the ball in the gap might be just what I need to kick the doubt forever. They say pitchers in this league flip it up there anywhere from 45 MPH to 80+. Not sure if I can hit 80+, but only time will tell.
No matter what, my adult baseball debut couldn’t go much better. I’ll be putting up game summaries on how it goes throughout the summer. Thanks for reading.