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June 9 2001: Have Glove, Will Travel

I just realized something that makes me very happy.

My arm doesn’t hurt.

Over the past three weeks I’ve spent a grand total of 14 out of the last seventeen days on the road, which (as my ear infection and thrown-out back can attest) can be tough on a body. Lucky for me, two of the three hotels I was in over that span had workout rooms, so I was able to put in quite a few sessions on the exercise bike and the treadmill to keep myself from going completely to pot.

What’s been harder to make time for is baseball workouts. The last time I played catch or swung a bat was May 19th. But I brought my glove and a T-ball along with me to Wisconsin, Illinois, and California. Why a T-ball? It looks and feels like a baseball, but it’s rubber, which makes it ideal to throw against a wall.

Since the season started, I’ve been trying to throw two or three times a week, but thanks to my busy schedule it’s been more like once a week. With a lot of coaching from the women in the New England Women’s Baseball League, I think I’m beginning to grasp the right mechanics. But my arm is still weak, and I figure the only thing that’s going to change it is throwing more.

There’s an elementary school a couple of blocks from my house with a couple of nice, large brick walls on it. The only problem is this: where the walls are, the ground is rough with gnarly tree roots. That makes for a lot of bad bounces and the potential for a turned ankle. Hasn’t stopped me from going out there at night a couple of times, though.

When I was in Wisconsin, it was rainy most of the time I was there. But on Memorial Day the sun came out and a cool breeze made it an ideal day for some outdoor exercise. I jogged all around the state capitol and up and down the surrounding side streets until I found an empty alley and the sturdy cinderblock back of an industrial building. The ball only once went underneath a dumpster, and I worked up quite a sweat fielding the bounces.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped into one of Madison’s great old used bookstores, and discovered an old, old hardcover book, published for kids, of Frank Crosetti’s instructional manual on baserunning and infield play. Yes, I bought it.

I felt really good in the hours after throwing in the alley, but the next day my arm was sore. That’s natural, I kept telling myself, but after the long string of nagging injuries I’ve suffered since turning thirty I can’t help but be a little paranoid that I’ve torn something, or that I’m doing something wrong. My arm is sore the next day pretty much every time I throw.

Except today. Yesterday I was in Los Angeles–Century City to be more exact–right around the corner from the Twentieth Century Fox movie lot. Big luxury hotel, swanky “fitness center” and spa, carpetted balcony on which I could sit with my laptop and work while overlooking a fountain. I won’t tell you how much time I spent watching Baseball Tonight, Sportscenter, and other sports on tv. Okay, a lot. But isn’t a luxury hotel about enjoying the things you don’t have at home? Ahhh….

My ear infection didn’t keep me from working out, but I was having trouble finding a place to throw. Not an alley in sight. The corporate towers nearby (including the “Die Hard” building) and shopping malls just were not built with the solo baseball enthusiast in mind. I finally thought I found a nice plain stone wall without any obstructions or traffic around the side of the hotel, but after I had been throwing for about two minutes, a hotel employee came out and asked me to stop. They were afraid I’d crack the plaster. Plaster? Why so it was. How very Hollywood.

I went for a jog while looking for another place and ended up crossing a construction site to a parking garage. Parking Garage! I thought. Cinderblock and brick for sure. I tried to get up to the roof level where I could see the elevator tower was all cinderblock. But the elevator didn’t actually go all the way to the roof, and I could not find a set of stairs. It appeared to be employee parking only on the roof. I got in the elevator and realized that the ground floor was number 6. That meant level one was five levels underground. Who would park all the way down there?

I took the elevator all the way down and emerged in a parking garage that was empty except for a single dark blue Dodge van. Going to the bottom of the ramp, so I wouldn’t have to chase my ball down it as soon as I missed one, I found a wide expanse of gray cinderblock.

The ceiling was a little bit low, but I figure I’m trying to learn to throw straight, not a big rainbow throw, so that should have been okay. I stretched out my arm. The air was thick and completely still. I threw the ball into my glove a few times, and then let loose against the wall.

BOOM. The sound was like a faraway cannon shot. I caught the ball and looked around, goosebumps coming up on my neck and arms. No one was around to hear me or to yell at me.

I threw it again. BOOM. The echo went up the ramp and I wondered how far away it could be heard. Where was the nearest attendant? Level six? Why did it matter? I wasn’t going to damage this wall, why should they care?

I kept throwing. I figured I would try to get twenty five good throws in before someone came and chased me away. A few minutes later, no one had, and I was out of breath. Okay, twenty five more. I started letting some of them loose sidearm, and that felt fine, too. No one came. It was like throwing the ball against a giant bass drum.

Eventually I had lost count of the throws and was dying for a breath of fresh air. I took the elevator back to the top floor and discovered a pedestrian bridge to–guess where?–my hotel.

Either my arm is getting stronger, my mechanics are getting better, or Sportscenter is the cure for a sore arm.

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