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. This series recounts those games.
Well the first game was successful in every way but the outcome. For the second game, we would be playing at Damato Park. This location has a beautiful view beyond the outfield wall of canyons, Aero Drive, Balboa Avenue, and the surrounding area. Why, you can see Fry’s Electronics from the warning track waaay in the distance.
The Park turned out to be very family friendly in terms of amenities (although the snack bar wasn’t open, which isn’t a big deal) and space for the kiddies to roam and be, well, kids. The other interesting feature of this field is the distances. It’s 304 down both lines, and 310 to dead center. When I was 11 I could hit the ball over 200 feet without much effort, so this seemed a really short porch for grown men, no matter how decrepit we might be and how slow our bat speed has become.
Before the first game I had gone to the cages that Friday afternoon to hit, and I thought it helped me out on Sunday. I’m not superstitious, but am a creature of habit, which meant going back to the cages. Typically I don’t use my game softball bats in the cage when I take BP; in fact, many years ago I spent 15 bucks to buy a cheapie bat just for cage use. It seemed prudent to do the same for baseball. I went with a bit of a novel approach, though, and bought a wood bat for the cage which is a little longer and heavier than the game bat I use. Why? Because I figure practicing with a heavier bat will help my bat speed when I use a lighter bat during the game. Or it will get me through the zone too fast and lead to a lot of foul balls down the first base line. We’ll see.
The cage session went well and I felt confident going into the game. We were the home team, and started this game the same way we started the first game – by letting the first two runners reach base. We then made it worse by walking the #3 hitter; suddenly we had the bases loaded and nobody out. Our pitcher bore down, striking out the clean up hitter, enticing a soft lineout, and striking out the #6 hitter. Big lift for the club.
The score was still scoreless in the second inning as I stood in the on-deck circle. The lead hitter in the inning had singled, but the next hitter made an out and the guy up before me would strike out. As I stood there timing the pitcher, I realized he was throwing the first pitch over the plate, and more importantly, was throwing the same speed as what I had been swinging at on Friday. Confidence filled the on-deck circle. I usually go to the plate and take pitches until I have a strike, just to gauge what the guy is doing (and for softball, to get a feel for how deep he’s throwing), but this time I decided to go up hacking.
Sure enough, the first pitch was out over the plate, and I whacked it into right center for a hit, moving the runner to third. I thought for a moment it would split the gap and roll to the wall, but the centerfielder made a nice play to cut it off. Now the fun starts, because I have to lead off first. I’d thought a lot about this over the last week, and resolved that at some point during this game I was going. However, I needed to get a feel for this guy’s move, and he was left-handed, so I was going to be cautious. I think for his first three pitches I took a good lead but was moving back to the bag when he delivered the ball. No steal in this inning, but the hitter behind me dropped a flare into right to score the run, and move me over to third. I was stranded there, but we took a 1-0 lead.
We had the better of the play for most of the game, with good pitching and timely defense. My second at bat, as the leadoff hitter in the inning, I took a ball, a strike over the outside corner, a swing and a miss at an outside pitch, took an outside pitch for a ball, and took a pitch inside for a ball to work the count full. This pitcher was throwing all fastballs, at least as far as I could tell. On 3-2 he busted me inside with a fastball, and it looked like it could be a strike. I swung defensively, and somehow managed to foul it back to the screen. A little luck never hurt, folks. The next 3-2 pitch was a ball, and I’d worked a walk. Here we go again.
I remained at first as the next two hitters made outs, then decided I needed to steal so as to get into scoring position should our #2 hitter reach on a single. When the count reached 2-1 I decided I was going. As I took my lead, suddenly I turned 13 again. Memory becomes fuzzy as you get older, but I distinctly remember never being thrown out stealing as a little leaguer, and this memory flooded into my conscious mind as I led off first. ‘I CAN’T be caught. No Way! I’m stealing this bag easy!’. The pitcher kicked and fired, and I took off.
Foul ball. Back to first. The first baseman says to me “Don’t you hate it when that happens?” Yes. Yes I do.
Everything resets, and I lead away again. The pitcher hasn’t thrown over once the whole game and he won’t this time. He kicks and I break for second. The throw is behind me and skips into the outfield, but not far enough to advance to third. After 27 years, I steal a base. Very cool. The story should end with Mark getting a single, and me coming around to score to high-fives. Well, I scored – but Mark hit the ball to left and over the wall for a 2-run homer. So much for needing to steal.
The game continues, and we streak out to a 7-2 lead. My third at bat comes with a runner on second and two out. Again I look at the first three pitches, but end up in a 1-2 hole. The 1-2 pitch is inside again – pitcher is at least paying attention – but this time I get around on it and line it foul up the first base line. Hardest hit ball I’ve produced in two games. On 1-2 he throws it low, but over the plate. I go down and get it, driving it to dead center. The CF retreats, appears to be under it – but the ball glances off his glove and hits the wall on one hop. The run scores, and I’m given credit for a double on the play. After three at bats I’m 2-2 with a walk, an RBI, and a stolen base, and we lead 8-2.
My next at bat was with two out and the bases empty in the seventh. I took a ball, then two strikes over the outside half. I decided to look for a pitch away, but got a pitch inside and low, and for some reason decided to swing. Right over it for strike three and the end of the inning.
The score would stay that way into the eighth. Unfortunately, it was hot that day, and either we didn’t have another pitcher or we didn’t have another pitcher our coach trusted (did I mention he’s our pitcher?), and our hurler was out of gas. With no one out, we gave up three runs, and with runners on first and third and no one out they hit a 3-run HR to tie the game.
Their pitcher – who as I mentioned was left-handed – eventually came up in the eighth and hit a high fly ball to right-center field. As a lefty, I had been shading him to the line. Just before he came to the plate our first baseman hollered out ‘Play him straight up! He can hit it anywhere!’, but I drifted towards the line anyway. Well the ball was hit into the gap, as I mentioned, and I didn’t get a good read off it when it was struck – it was hit quite high and looked like it wouldn’t carry, but it did – and I couldn’t make up the ground to catch the ball. I didn’t touch it, so it went for a double. That run eventually scored to give them a 9-8 lead.
We put the first two hitters on to start the bottom of the inning, and with one out had a hit to center field that looked like enough to score the tying run; but our runner decided to hold up at third, and we left the bases loaded. Turned out it didn’t matter, as Mark went back out there to pitch the ninth, and got battered again, giving up 6 more runs, including a Grand Slam to the opposing pitcher that really put the game out of reach. They brought their shortstop in to pitch the ninth, and I was due up third. Our first two hitters reached, but I noticed while waiting in the on-deck circle this guy threw noticeably harder than their starter did, and I was unsure if I could catch up to him.
There was a good Nike commercial out a few years ago, showing youth sports clips interspersed with quotes. One of the quotes was ‘there are two types of people in the world – those who think they can and those who think they can’t. Both are right. Which one are you?’ On this at bat, I was the one who thought he can’t. I worked the count to 2-2, then swung late at a good pitch to hit over the inside half of the plate, striking out. We didn’t score in the bottom of the ninth, losing 15-8.
The good news out of all this is I’m still hitting the baseball well. The bad news is my defense isn’t as solid yet in baseball as it’s become in softball, and if the pitcher can throw with any kind of pace I’m in danger of not making contact at all. I expected I’d discover areas needing improvement the more I played, and here are a couple. I’ll work on that and we’ll see how the next game goes.
Thanks for reading. Until the next game –