Skip to content

April 11 2002 : Trying To Make The Team (Player Diary)

The March 2002 entries of my baseball player diary.

March 5

My arm hurts. Not from throwing — it has been too damn cold here lately. Last night it got down into the teens and we have had a bitter wind. I have not had the chance to go to the cage in over a week, either. We had a few weird warm days, where it was a little rainy and tropical and almost 60 degrees, and now it’s back to acting like winter out there.

So I have not been doing any outdoor work at all. I have been going to tae kwon do quite a bit though, which is an excellent aerobic workout, and unlike jogging or what have you, goes in spurts.

But about my wrist and arm. It’s some kind of tendonitis. I feel it in the underside of my wrist and a little bit in my elbow. I know I should call up the hand therapist who worked with me to cure my last RSI a few years ago, because she can probably tell if this is related, or something else entirely. But it is very troubling to think I may have this nagging injury, or that it may keep me from playing. Let’s hope not. Jason Giambi has a cranky hamstring, Derek Jeter has a pulled muscle in his neck. Let’s hope we’re all fine come April 1.

March 6

Ran a mile today.

March 7

Did two things today related to preparing for the season. One was I went to the schoolyard to throw even though it’s only 45 degrees out. Stretched, warmed up my arm, and kept my jacket on, obviously. Threw about forty times against the wall, then about ten “long” throws across the field. Still hitting about 80 feet maximum.

When I throw against the wall, I prefer to use a tee-ball instead of a regular baseball, because the bricks just chew up a regular baseball, and also the tee-ball bounces back harder and faster, making it more of a challenge to field (in act, it’s so bouncy, it can bounce right out of the glove). But my tee ball went missing a few weeks ago so I’ve been wearing the cover off a Babe Ruth League ball in the collection. Yesterday, in a perfect demonstration of one of the corollaries of Murphy’s Law, I finally bought a new tee ball, went and threw with it, and as soon as I got home: immediately found the old tee ball. I mean the moment I walked in the door I saw it. Oh well, now I have two.

The other thing I did yesterday was I got contact lenses. I had gone to the eye doctor about a month ago because of a pain I was having in one eye. Turned out my eye was fine, but while we were chatting he gave me some advice about playing ball. He said either I should invest in polycarbonate lenses and unbreakable frames for my glasses, or I should just get contacts. Turns out contacts are MUCH MUCH cheaper than polycarb glasses! Yesterday I went for the seminar on how to put them in and take them out, and was supposed to wear them for four hours. I did not notice any different in my throwing or fielding as a result of wearing them.

Today I’m supposed to wear them five hours. It’s gray and cold again, but tomorrow it is supposed to hit 60 degrees, so maybe I can convince some other baseball nuts around here to come and throw with me.

March 9

Woke up this morning to a sunny, 65 degree day and called Rich to see if he wanted to join me and corwin in some batting practice. But the lucky stiff was watching the Red Sox take BP at Grant Field in Dunedin. Understandably, he couldn’t make it.

corwin and I went over to Trum Field in Somerville around noon. It was so warm that we didn’t wear jackets and I wished I weren’t wearing black sweatpants and a black t-shirt. Hard to believe. They say tomorrow will be 45 degrees and raining again, so we decided to get as much work in as we could.

Trum has a baseball diamond at one end and a softball diamond on the other end, with some plain grass in between the two fields and some basketball courts off to one side. Some “Summahville yout'” were already on the baseball field when we arrived, three or four big teenagers doing some BP. We went over to the softball field and discovered the infield was a solid sheet of mud. The kind of mud that you can step on and leave a deep, sharp impression of your shoe and spikes in. We decided to stay on the outfield grass instead.

We started with throwing, as usual (after some light stretching) and then threw some overhead tosses to practice catching flies. We did some soft toss batting practice into the fence. You know you must have tagged one pretty good when the ball you hit sticks in the chain link fence.

Then we decided to try some regular BP. By that time, there were three or four more groups of baseball players taking up residence in various other areas of the fields. There was a grandfatherly-looking fellow, in a flannel shirt, suspenders and cab-driver hat, with a ten year old kid. Another trio of Summahville Yout’, another boyfriend/girlfriend pair like us. We didn’t want to hit into any of their groups so we decided to try hitting toward the fence.

The Trum Field fence is about forty feet high, and corwin thought if we stayed close enough to it, he would hit balls over it. Well, the first ball hit hit went over the fence, over the road, and into the backyard of the house across the road and sounded like it hit something metal like a car hood. Oops. We moved even closer to the fence. The next ball, he popped up and it hit the roof of the house and landed on their front walk. We then abandoned the idea of doing BP.

Instead we hit grounders to each other. With only two people, the one who fields has to lob the ball back in to the hitter, trying to bounce it on the ground in front of him/her. corwin started hitting to me–which meant I did a lot of standing around. corwin does not have his fungo technique down yet, and would miss the ball, dribble it foul, etc… but I think I did an okay job with the ones that were reachable. Then I hit to corwin.

This is how I got the first baseball injury of the season. I am, right now, lying on my back in my office, on the floor, with my feet up in a chair and my laptop against my legs. Why? Because my shin is swelled up like there’s a baseball under it. One of corwin’s fungo returns came lobbing in and was going to go past me. I stuck my leg out to stop it and got the ball off my shin. Ow.

I didn’t think much of it until we finished up and walked over to a nearby breakfast place to have a late brunch. We met some friends there, and I put my foot up. RIght through my sock you could see my leg was not the correct shape. Under the sock it was deep purple. I asked for a cup of ice and tucked the whole cup into my sock while we ate.

We should have come straight home after that, but Trum is only half a mile from a big sporting goods store — and we decided to see what kind of prices there were on lighter bats. I bought a 22 ounce, 29 inch Babe Ruth League/PONY League bat for only $20! I tried the 23 ounce, 30 inches and it just felt like it dragged when I pulled my hands back into launch position. I’m not sure if my league will let me use a bat this light, but they probably will. I hope.

We were thinking of going to the cage, too, but we were feeling tired by then and decided to come home to get things done here.

Incidentally, my contact lenses seem fine. I didn’t even notice them in, really.

March 15

Tonight was my first time in the cage with the new bat and the contact lenses. I did three rounds of 24 pitches — except that the machine was acting weird and I swear it gave me more like 40 pitches on my second time through.

Nothing like going to a sports bar on a Friday night. I got there around 9:30 and there was quite a line. At least seven guys waiting to use the cage. The one in there when I arrived didn’t make contact once, not even to foul the ball off. His friend went next and was slightly better, but you could tell they were doing out of Michelob-induced Machismo. You know, “hey, how hard could it be? come on, I’ll do it, if you do it…” The guy in front of me in line was another one of those massive mixed-blood hispanic guys I see there all the time. Built much more like a linebacker (or a refrigerator) than a baseball player. But I figured he was going to hit better than the rest of them because he had batting gloves in his back pocket.

When he got in the rest of them had cleared out and it was just me waiting to go then. He had a very powerful wallop, always made contact, and most of his hits seemed to go right to the back net–screaming line drives. But his form was awful. He would swing with his shoulders and then as he transferred his weight forward he would take a step forward with his BACK foot, sweeping it across behind his left foot, like a ballet step or something. Violent swing, lots of power generated by the momentum of that huge body, but you have to wonder, if he straightened out his mechanics, how much harder could he hit? He’s like those guys I teach in martial arts, some of them coming in able to punch pretty hard just because of their size. But if they don’t learn to do it right, they won’t last ten seconds in a fight. I wondered if this guy could hit anything faster than what this cage throws, or if he could hit a breaking ball.

My first round, I couldn’t hit a lick. The first ten balls went past me or were barely tipped. Then I made some adjustment or other (don’t remember now what) and started to make contact. And then started to make contact on the sweet spot of the bat.

The thing about the 22 ounce, 29 inch bat is that the sweet spot is really small, compared to the 33 inch bats they have at the cage that I’ve swung some times and which you can just rake through the strike zone. They have other problems for me, of course, like they’re so long I can’t get the pitch out in front of the plate…

When I came out another guy was there, hispanic, mid-thirties, gang tattoo on his left arm. He’s the only person besides me I’ve ever seen go into the cage and knock all the loose balls floating around in there down to the hopper for the machine. He left a full and sweating Heineken on the table when he went in. He looked like he did pretty well.

While he was in there, two young guys, early twenties, came along and asked how the cages worked. They went in the softball cage and one of them came up to me a bit later and said “I can’t hit a softball. But I’m NASTY at baseball.” Then he asked if he could cut in line in front of me. I told him to go ahead. He said a couple of more bragging-type things which I wasn’t really listening to–they were more of the “I’m at a bar having a good time, and now I’m talking to a girl” kind of thing than an actual conversation.

I let him and his friend cut in front of me–there was no one else in line and I wanted to see how they’d do. They were not drunk, but they had been drinking. He could actually make decent contact with the ball. “Nasty” I guess.

Then his friend got in. He flailed. He looked lost. He kept cocking the bat back and then letting loose with a compact swing — kind of a right-handed Ken Griffey Junior swing — but way off the ball. I think he was standing too far from the plate but it was hard to tell really. He was all over the place.

When he came out he sat down next to me and introduced himself as Scott. “You play in a league?” he asked. I told him about NEWBL and he seemed genuinely interested. (His pal, meanwhile, had wandered off to play pool or something.) He told me he had played college baseball and had made it as far as the Cranberry League (by which I guess he meant the Cape Cod League, the top amateur league in the country) before he “burned out.” We chatted a bit about hitting and I told him i thought he was a little too far from the plate. He told me he thought I held my elbow too low.

HIs pal came back and was like “c’mon, enough of this” but he told him to buzz off and kept talking to me.

I went back for another round and made much much better contact than the first round, and I wasn’t even chopping the ball in front of the plate too much, like I usually do. But I was hitting a lot of ground balls to third. Unusual–I was pulling the ball more than usual and also hitting grounders.

When I came out Scott told me he thought I was definitely holding the elbow too low. He demonstrated what he meant, and why it resulted in a grounder. He showed me what he gained by keeping his right elbow up, and his left elbow relaxed, instead of the other way around, including how he’d use that to (and here were the magic words!) Reach The Outside Pitch! Yeah! Something I know I have trouble with and which I’ve always wondered how to do … Chris started showing me some of it last year, stepping toward the pitch a bit, but with the mechanics of my swing as they were, it was usually a pop foul I ended up with.

“I’m done with baseball, lost it, burned out, you know?” Scott said. “But here I am, maybe I can pass on a little bit of what I gained to someone else who is still in it.” He tried to show me how keeping my elbow up would allow me to use the torque in my body better.

I don’t understand it quite yet. I haven’t internalized the change yet but thinking about it sitting here, I can see why if my elbow were low, as I would swing, my top hand would chop down on the ball, whereas if I keep it up, I can fire the barrel of the bat more parallel to the ground…

“You’re going to keep hitting ground outs that way,” Scott said. “I used to do exactly that. You drop your elbow because it feels comfortable, but you need to keep it high. Not too high, but, yeah, high.”

My computer desktop pattern is of Derek Jeter partway into his swing. His front foot is a few inches off the ground and look, his elbow, it’s way up parallel to his shoulder. On my desk itself is a pretty cool thing Santa brought me: a Bernie Williams rocking photo thing. It’s hard to describe if you haven’t seen one of these. It’s like a baseball card, only instead of having a single photo, it has composited several photos at different angles through a kind of diffraction layer. So as it rocks back and forth it looks like a little frame by frame movie. It has two images, one of Bernie swinging (from the pitcher’s point of view) and one of him running down a fly ball. If you rock it back and forth fast, it looks just like a film clip. But if I look at it slowly, I can look at it frame by frame. What do you know, Bernie’s elbow is up.

It’s funny. I’ve read three different books on hitting now, and somehow never got that. It took someone who had that problem once themselves to see it in me. Now I’m going to go back and read the books again.

Weather’s supposed to be crummy tomorrow. I leave for Florida on Thursday morning.

March 17

Cold and gray today but not raining, so Rich, his girlfriend Alex and I, went out to Raymond Field, which is close to my house. There’s a softball diamond there that we like to use for Wiffle Ball in the summer–all dirt.

Today it was all mud. Seriously, they say we’re in a drought and there’s water rationing all over the East Coast because of the lack of snow this winter, but the field was waterlogged. Rich and I played catch for about twenty minutes and it was cold enough out there that we blew on our throwing hands between tosses and I couldn’t really feel the ball in my glove very well. I would get the ball in the glove and then either close the glove too soon and squirt it out, or not soon enough and the ball would bounce right out. Weird–I’ve never had that before, not repeatedly like that.

I need to learn to throw while running and I wonder how one does that? I threw a couple today while on the run and it was kind of like I would run and then jump in the air and throw while my feet weren’t moving. Is that right? Or should there be a way to do it without pausing in the air like that? No idea–none of the how to books say anything like that.

At one point one of the neighborhood kids, a boy named Jordan, came up and asked us if we wanted to buy a wallet. My first thought–why, did you steal one? But no, he makes them himself out of duct tape. They are pretty nice, place for your credit cards and everything. Four dollars. We know his name is Jordan because Rich asked for his business card, and the kid had them! Twelve years old at most, had his own business cards. Not too shabby.

We did some soft toss and I incorporated a foot plant–just a lift and put back down in the same spot for my front foot. I got some nice rips in that way. I was thinking about my elbow but have no idea if I am holding it higher or not. I did definitely get the feeling of firing the barrel of the bat using my top hand though, for a nice flat line drive stroke on the outside pitch.

Then we hit fungoes and the world’s smallest dog tried to participate. This dog was so small, at first Rich thought it was a cat. It was smaller than both of my cats, couldn’t have weighed more than six pounds, and had such small jaws it couldn’t even get a bite on the baseball. The closest it could come was it could kind of soccer dribble the baseball between its front paws as it ran. I was afraid to hit fungoes with the dog running in front of me because I was afraid I’d kill it with the ball. Eventually I tricked it into letting me grab it by the collar and then the owner took it away. Pretty funny, if distracting.

By the time Alex and I were out there with Rich hitting to us, it was getting kind of dark, almost 6pm. Raymond Field has no lights and besides, even the lighted fields aren’t on yet. Not until next month.

Women’s league tryouts are April 7th, the day before my 35th birthday. I’ve got a lot to work on before then.

March 18

Well, any plans to go throw or do some running today are quashed. It is snowing. It has been coming down hard for over an hour and it is finally beginning to stick. Jogging when it’s like this is too dangerous, too likely to turn an ankle (which I did the last time I tried to run in the snow). I’ll try to do some intervals on the exercise bike after work at the tae kwon do school tonight.

I wish I was in Florida. It’s pretty obvious why so many big leaguers move to Florida and Arizona…

March 20

Snowing again today, and yesterday it was rain mixed with snow. None of the snow is sticking, but the roads are slippery and it’s unpleasant to even walk outside in the wet and damp. And I woke up this morning with a massive sore throat. A bad time to get sick (is there ever a good time?) as I’ll be on a plane to Florida tomorrow morning.

You know what would be neat? To get some hitting tips from major league coaches. You never know.

March 22

Threw for fifteen minutes in my parents backyard in Florida, and now I have about fifteen chigger bites under my socks around my ankles. They itch like mad during the night! Grrrrr!

Yesterday I got to talk to Reggie Jackson for twenty minutes during a rain delay. Well, mostly he talked and I listened. I was too chicken to ask him for hitting tips, though, and mostly listened to him reminisce about the old days (which was fine by me.)

April 2

Threw against the wall at the school, but the weather has continued cold and crappy so it’s the first time since the trip to Florida. Tryouts are in a week and I’m still throwing only 80 feet. And whenever I rush the slightest bit, I throw high or wide of my target. Not good. I wonder if I am ever going to become competent at this?

April 7 : TRYOUTS

Tryouts were this morning at 9am at Strike One’s indoor facility up in Danvers. So I had to leave the house around 8am to get up there on time. 8am felt like 7am because we had to change the clocks to daylight savings time last night! I got six hours of sleep and my eyes were so puffy I had trouble getting my contact lenses in.

But not as puffy as they are now–or at least, not as puffy as my left eye. We started out throwing, as usual. I threw with Sue B.–a really good outfielder who played with the Cougars last year. I felt like my depth perception was not at 100%, as I kept closing my glove on air just an inch from the ball. Could it be my contact lenses, or the lack of sleep? I know playing catch with me can be an adventure sometimes, but I wasn’t as off target on my throws as I sometimes am. Mostly I was just throwing a little short, as Sue could really throw a lot farther than I can.

Then we took grounders. The all-clay field is packed very hard, and you get some weird bounces. That’s not to say you don’t get weird hops off grass and the cratered up fields we sometimes play on outdoors, but the hops are not as hard, and the grass deadens the ball a little. Brian Schurko, Cougars coach of last year, was hitting them to us.

I was not having a good day. I was knocking a lot of balls down in front of me, but not really picking up much cleanly with my glove. We started out at third and I was not impressive. Everyone had some wild throws into the dirt or over the head of the first baseman, and bobbled some balls. But I am the only one, I think, who only made maybe one really strong throw to first. I didn’t actually ask Brian or Mark Sterling, the Robins’ coach, what they thought, but I’m fairly sure they already know that I can’t throw, anyway.

We then moved over to short, which I prefer to third just because the ball does not slice as much and so I find it easier to read, even when on the ground. I was not much better at short than at third today, though. In fact, I’m sure that I was better at short in my first tryout last year, when it was the first time I had ever tried to do any kind of fielding whatsoever. Maybe it was beginner’s luck?

Anyway, I was explaining my puffy eye. Not much to explain really–I got smacked in the face with a bad hop, right on the temple. The instant it happened I just sat down on the ground, with my legs crossed, my hand on the spot next to my eye where the ball hit.

What was funny was that it didn’t really hurt — I felt impact more than any pain, and then I thought: gee, I’ve been hit harder than that by human beings (in full contact tae kwon do). But I could feel it swelling up under my fingers.

Sterling kept saying “Don’t get up, stay down, stay down,” and I, like all athletes who have gone down kept saying “I’m okay, I’m okay.” I was okay, but we went and got me an ice pack, and they made me sit down the rest of the morning and so I didn’t get to hit. Honestly, with the swelling, it might have been hard to see out of my left eye, which is my front eye when I bat.

After an hour with the ice on, all the purple color was gone, but you could still see the swelling. I drove home with one hand on the ice pack and one on the steering wheel. I had lunch with the ice pack on and while listening to Roger Clemens throw a nine-strikeout gem against the Devil Rays. Then I took a nap, and woke up with a black-purple shiner under my eye the color of an eggplant. It’s quite impressive. It doesn’t hurt a bit, but man, it really looks like I was in a fight. Or a car accident.

It’s funny. I’m not embarrassed about getting hit in the head, but I think if it happened in a game, I would be. I’d be much more embarrassed by the fact that I can’t get the throw to the first baseman, though, even when I do field cleanly.

Will I ever be good at this? Or even competent? The good news is that Emily works and lives not far from me, and she wants to throw a lot to build up her arm. “I’m tired of finally peaking in August when the season is ending,” she said. Last summer I could throw about 60 feet. Now I can throw about 80 feet. Maybe by the time June rolls around, I can get it up to 100.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.