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January 30 2001 : Caged Heat

I just flew in from Las Vegas, and boy are my arms tired.

No really, I was in Vegas for a convention, and instead of staying an extra night in a hotel, I got a red eye flight out of town at almost midnight. This meant that after the show closed and I packed up my suitcase, I had several hours to kill in a town just bristling with entertainment options.

I don’t gamble, and if I did, it would probably be on baseball, so there was nothing to interest me there, it being January and all. I was hanging out with a fellow trade-show survivor, my friend Patrick, who is a San Francisco Giants fan.

So I cajoled Patrick into chipping in for the ten dollar cab ride to the Sandia Fun Center, a family video arcade where they also happen to have outdoor batting cages. Hence, my tired arms.

We must have made quite a pair. Our first day in Vegas, we got into a cab, he wearing the Giants “SF”, me the “NY,” and immediately got into a debate with the cab driver about whether Dusty Baker was a good manager. I don’t follow the National League as well, so it was mostly the two of them, though I did put in that anyone who can manage that crybaby Bonds is probably a saint. I think we left it at, Dusty’s the manager that can get the team to October, but in the pinch situations, he doesn’t manage aggressively enough. All I can say is: thank god for Joe Torre.

But, I was telling you about the batting cages. Patrick had never been to a batting cage before, and I’d never been to an outdoor cage where you could pay by time. We put down for 15 minutes worth of batting and went out to the cages. The cages were arranged in an arc, the slower pitch on the right (40 m.p.h.) going up to the faster pitches on the left… I didn’t go beyond the 80 m.p.h. cages before turning back to the 50 m.p.h. machine… but there were some there. Someday, maybe, someday.

Now, I’ve been going to a local indoor batting cage at a sports bar in Massachusetts about once a week all winter. And I can definitely say I’m getting better. But what I definitely am not is consistent.

I keep thinking that one of these days, one side will emerge as dominant, but for now, I’m still a switch hitter. I appear to have more command from the right side, and I’ve started to see the ball well from that side. But I’m a line drive hitter–I connect hard, but most with muscle and not a clean swing. On the left, I’ve started tilting the bat forward and whipping it through the box faster… and although I miss most of the time, when I connect, the ball just SAILS…– it feels so good when that happens, that I keep hitting from the left.

With the outdoor cage, I could finally tell that the ball sails pretty far those times when the left side works. With the indoor cage, you just guess the trajectory of the ball, but it was truly nifty to see the little white ball shrinking under the bright lights as it got further and further and then disappeared over the barrier above the row of pitching machines.

Patrick needs practice. It took him about ten swings to catch up to the ball, and then he started connecting–and taking the sting in his hands. I should remember to send him some batting gloves for his birthday. It’s also possible that he’d do better if he wasn’t still in his dress shoes and slacks, and if we’d warmed up a little. I find I hit a lot better if I go to the cage straight from a workout. Standing in a trade show booth for three solid days is grueling, but not really what you’d call a workout.

Fifteen minutes was plenty for us, and a huge bargain as far as I was concerned–normally I pay seventy five cents per 12 pitches, and this worked out to be more like half that–if you don’t count the ten dollar cab ride.

It was better than putting the money into slot machines, anyway.

Now that I’m back on the East Coast, I’m looking forward to spring. So are the other guys you find at the sports bar, waiting their turn in the cage. Last week there were three hispanic kids there, maybe nineteen, twenty years old, me, and one forty-something beer-bellied guy who chainsmoked while batting. He started talking to the young kids: “Hey, you hit good, you play for somebody?” Turns out they all went to high school together and one of them is in the Toronto minor league system, another one of them played for Lowell. All three of them had a lot of power, but not much discipline–it was amusing to see that I hit the ball as often as they did, just not as hard.

The old guy told one of them on the bench that he’d batted .474 in high school. I think he was batting about .200 in the cage that day. But well, so were we all.

We’re all waiting for the spring to come, so the professionals can take over. I wonder what the batting cages are like in Tampa?

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