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May 7 2003 : Out Standing In The Field

Cecilia’s Baseball Diary 2003
May 7 2003 : Out Standing In The Field

Here I am again, trying to play baseball. For those who are new to my endeavors, here’s a quick recap.

March 23, 2000 — While surfing the Internet, I discover the existence of “organized” women’s baseball in the US. While there’s no “major league” per se, there are several organizing bodies, including the AAU and the loose confederation of leagues that form the “feeder” system for Team USA for the annual Women’s World Series and such. I wrote in my journal that day: “Does every fan long to be in the game, somewhere deep in his or her heart? Or is it just me?” A dream is born.

April 10, 2001 — I decide that sitting around dreaming is not enough. I filled out the registration form for tryouts on the newly rechristened NEWBL web site (formerly WNEBL) and went to a practice session. “I’ve now spent a total of four hours in the company of the New England Women’s Baseball League, and already I know twice as much about the mechanics of baseball as I did before. ” I wrote. “I jumped in with a woman named Robin and caught the first throw that came my way… but was having trouble getting the ball all the way to her.” She showed me the correct way to hold the ball and to throw over the top, using my wrist. Robin’s full name is Robin “Bama” Wallace, and she was just inducted into the Women’s Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

July 15, 2001 — I could not actually commit to playing the NEWBL schedule because of my travel plans for the summer of 2001, but the women in the league thought it would be great if I went to team practices to try to pick up the needed skills so that I might try out for real the following year. Once the season started though, even practices were tough to make, and I didn’t have much chance to work on my throwing or fielding. I did got to most of the games I could though, and helped with scorekeeping and the like. One day I was getting ready to eat breakfast and then mosey down to the field in Lynn (half hour drive) in time for the first pitch, when I noticed my cell phone blinking: voice mail. It was a league organizer asking me to bring my cleats and fill in for an absent player so that the Boston Blitz could field nine and not forfeit! I did not get a hit, but I did hit to the right side to move a runner. As I wrote that day “I’m sorry to report that my one outfield chance came in the bottom of the second to last inning, with no one on, the leadoff batter hit a nice fly ball my direction. It looked like it was coming right to me. In fact, it looked like it was going to fall in front of me, so I ran in a few steps. But then, when it was about twenty feet above me, it was suddenly also four feet behind me.” Oops. Well, I never HAD been taught how to catch a fly ball.

January 10, 2002 — On a business trip to Las Vegas, I get my rolling suitcase caught in a doorway and while trying to yank it free, tear the tendon in my left elbow. At the time, I didn’t know it was torn. The next day it hurt like hell and I took some ibuprofen and forgot about it. But months later it was still nagging me, and I thought it was probably just my tennis elbow flaring up again from too much computer use…

April 7, 2002 — Okay, tryouts for NEWBL for real this time. I had been jogging and throwing against a wall all winter (it was a mild winter with very little snow) and was somewhat perplexed at how my arm seemed weaker than the year before. I could only throw the ball about sixty feet. But I went to try out, nonetheless. On the second grounder I took on the hard indoor clay, I got a bad hop that hit me in the temple right on the edge of my eye socket. I had to sit out the rest of the tryout with an icepack on my face, and I had a shiner so black it looked like I was wearing shoe polish on my face for about three weeks. (Coincidentally, that night I went to my first SABR meeting.) About the time the bruise was clearing up, I got a brief email saying that I did not make the cut, and I thought my baseball dream ended there.

August 6, 2002 — I finally go to see an orthopedist about my elbow, which is still hurting. He touches it once, I wince, and he explains it’s torn. Or, it was, and now it’s a mass of scar tissue that needs ultrasound and rehab exercises.

October 10, 2002 — I start physical therapy. The Ultrasound feels really weird and almost turns my stomach. The therapist also manipulates the injury to break up the adhesions. Ouch, ouch, ouch. But I start with exercises. Four weeks later I am pain free and am actually developing muscle tone again. I join an indoor winter softball league and find out I can’t hit a slow pitch softball. But it’s fun, even if it’s not baseball.

February 21, 2003 — I get email from a friend of a friend of a friend, Justine Siegel, who is an organizer of the WBL, telling me that if I want to play ball, I should try the Pawtucket Slaterettes in Rhode Island. I drive down to the Boys and Girls Clubs on a sign up day, and then have lunch with Deb Bettencourt, the player rep. They’ll have tryouts basically just to see what positions to slot people into, but anyone who wants to play, can. Sign me up! Even if it is a 90 minute drive for me.

So that brings us up to the present. It looks like I’ll have a baseball diary to keep in 2003 after all.

April 22

“Santa Claus” gave me a gift certificate worth an hour of coaching at Strike One and I had my first of two lessons tonight with Cheryl Milligan, who, as it happens, I know from NEWBL. Cheryl is a terrific coach who really knows her stuff. “So what do you want to work on?” she asked me. “Everything,” I answered. So we started with throwing. She took me all the way back to some basic drills we had done back in 2001 when I was hanging around the league, to help me use my wrist to put more snap on the ball, more spin. By the end of about 20 minutes of throwing, we had to leave the batting cage and go upstairs to start airing it out. At first I kept short hopping the longer throws to her, but then I started to get it. I think we were throwing about 80 feet by the end, and I felt like we could have gone farther if we hadn’t run out of room. It’s all mechanics. This year, I can actually feel the wrist snap in a way I couldn’t when I had the torn tendon. The tendon has been acting up a little recently–I tweaked it while shoveling snow this winter–but it feels BETTER when I throw, or at least it did tonight. I am going to keep up the Thera-band exercises I have, though, to keep strengthening the arm. Cheryl also hit me some ground balls, teaching me how to get my hands in position, to get the glove down at the right angle. And then she taught me how to scoop the short hop! It really is a “scoop” motion with the glove! I’ve seen firstbasemen do it a million times but I never would have figured out the motion on my own. I want to practice that more–it’s hard and I love anything hard if I think I can eventually master it. I suppose that’s my opinion of baseball as a whole.

April 24

It was raining when I left Boston, but it was clear but chilly in Pawtucket when I arrived at Slater Park, where the Slaterettes womens teams play. Deb had scheduled practice from 6-8pm, but we actually only went until about seven, because it was getting dark! There are no lights at the field. We took ground balls, mostly. I went to second, where I feel the most comfortable, and I’m pleased to say I CAN make the throw from second to first! When the city of Pawtucket built this field for the Slaterettes, they made a mistake and the basepaths are slightly shorter than the regulation 90 feet. So maybe it was 80 or 85 feet. Many of my throws are still short, or air mailed–I need to develop that accuracy. But at least I know it is possible for me to get the ball there. For what its worth, I seem to be throwing about as well/poorly as most of the other women there tonight. No Amazons there this time around. And we had fun, joking around with each other. I did make some nice plays, and I took some double play relays at second. I have no idea what to do with my feet on that–I better ask Cheryl. I also missed a lot of balls I should have had. So no Gold Glove yet. But my confidence is building.

April 25

How interesting. I just got email from the NEWBL organizers. The league is going through some very very exciting changes–they are being sponsored this year by the new independent league men’s team in Lynn, the North Shore Spirit. The Spirit spent $3 million to renovate Fraser Field for their season, and this will be the field NEWBL will play on, too. They are going to start from scratch and try to field four new teams under league management by the Spirit ownership. The Spirit will not only pay for all expenses, but also provide training facilities and also field a tournament team for the AAU women’s baseball championships. Wow. This really is the “big leagues” for women’s baseball. I emailed back and told them I know I don’t even approach their necessary skill level, but if their trying to recruit 64 players this late into the season, if they have trouble finding enough people, basically I’ll try out if it will help them get going. Emily Christie, a pitcher in the league who I have played catch with, wrote back saying “yes please do try out” and assigning me a tryout number. They gave me number one.

April 26

Slaterettes Opening Day ceremonies were today, indoors at Shea High School Gym, because it was pouring rain. The ceremonies were quite nice. The mayor of Pawtucket came to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and give a little pep speech. Then another pitch was thrown by the grandfather of a girl in the league who is a third generation Slaterette! A new sign for the field at the Boys and Girls Club was unveiled. And Wilma Briggs, a New England native and a member of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League gave a short speech also. It was an honor to meet her. Before the ceremonies, while the younger girls were getting their team photos taken, Wilma was hanging around with us “majors division” folks (age 14 and up) where we were selling sweatshirts and so on. What a gracious woman. I eventually got up the nerve to approach her, with a Slaterettes window sticker and a Sharpie in my hand. “Is it okay if I’m a big dork and ask you for your autograph?” I asked. She looked at my pen and replied, “Would you mind if I signed in blue instead? That way you’ll know it’s not a photocopy.” Then we chatted a few minutes. “You look like a ballplayer,” she said. “What position?” I admitted I was hoping for second base. She winked at me knowingly. “Second is great. You can bobble the ball, drop it, pick it up and still get ’em.” She told me about how when she first got to the AAGPBL her manager, Jimmy Foxx (yes, that Jimmy Foxx) wanted her to play first base. On her first day she flubbed a scoop “and that was the end of that!”

April 28

Had my second lesson with Cheryl. I asked her to teach me to bunt, since I’ve only ever done it that once or twice in BP two years ago. We spent a good 15 – 20 minutes on bunting–I probably bunted a hundred times. A few buckets full. My bat is definitely too short–I can’t bunt the outside pitch. My bat is also technically too small for tournament play. They want a -3 differential, meaning the weight of the bat can only be 3 ounces lighter than the bat is inches long. So, a 32 inch bat that is 29 ounces. Mine is 29 inches and only 22 ounces, or -7. I need to build up some wrist strength though. I know I can swing a heavier bat–I have at the batting cages many times–and I swing the heavier one with more authority. But worse control. When we were done with bunting, we threw. My arm definitely feels better after throwing. Cheryl then told me that tryout registrations for the league are coming in pretty slowly, so I might have a shot. Wow. If that’s the case, I definitely need more lessons. Fortunately for me, corwin couldn’t decide what to get me for my birthday, and so he’s going to give me two more lessons. (My income this year has been near non-existent…)

May 1

Had Slaterettes practice tonight. It was a steady drizzle all day, not enough to keep us off the field. We threw to warm up beforehand, and I wasn’t really able to start airing it out because no one really got that far apart from each other. We were throwing maybe 50 feet. Wrist feels good though! It’s been cranky all week, and I was really worried, but now it feels great! We took a LOT of grounders today. We did that for about a half hour, I also turned a few double plays, and made the throw to first about half the time. Getting there. I still have to figure out how to do it while making the pivot–what’s the right thing to do with my feet? (Ask Cheryl.) Then we did soft toss drills for close to an hour–first with wiffle balls, then regular balls, then wiffle golf balls! Ping! I can hit the wiffle golf ball most of the time. We took so many swings, though, that my back was starting to really feel it. That damn injury goes back to 1996. I wake up every morning with it completely stiff. Today it gave me no trouble–I stretched it for a good long time when I woke up today–so I was able to bend over easily to field balls. But it begins to hurt, it jars, when I jog or run after balls after a while. After soft toss, we did more grounders. The fog moved in around seven and made everything wet and slimy. Next question for Cheryl–how do you throw a slimy, dirty ball? It was a great practice, I feel good, everyone’s friendly, and none of us are close to perfect. My back was in such a state by the time I got into the car that I took some ibuprofen before I took off my spikes. Now I’m getting ready for bed and I’ve got the liniment on. Minty fresh. I wonder what number I will get? The draft “tryouts” are this Saturday, unless it rains. And Sunday NEWBL is having an informal practice, too, which I should go to. Suddenly my dance card is full…

May 3

Slaterettes “tryouts” were today, i.e. coaches evaluated players in a general way prior to the draft. The draft was going to be on Wednesday, but a newspaper article about the league just appeared, and a bunch more prospective players came out of the woodwork as a result. So there will probably be one more tryout day in the next two weeks, and then the coaches will get together and divvy us up.

The weakest part of my game right now is still my throwing. With the Slaterettes it is not glaring because there are a lot of weak arms, it would appear. Whoever plays first base is going to be taking a lot of throws on hops. What we did today was this: there were about twenty of us in all, and they numbered us. The first four put on batting helmets while everyone else went out into the field to shag. They turned on the generator and the pitching machine, and we took turns hitting. After you hit, you went into the field and the next person came in. I was number four.

I made good contact with the ball today. It’s the first time I’ve ever taken outdoor batting practice like this. I only swung and missed once, and was not hitting the ball off the handle. At one point I fouled off two in a row, off the end of the bat, and realized I was creeping backwards in the batter’s box, away from the plate. What I did to prevent this was I touched the first side corner of the plate with the bat before each pitch, which set my feet at the right distance and set the barrel’s sweet spot over the heart of the plate during my swing. Ping! My little twenty-two ounce bat. Bob Cluck’s “Play Better Baseball for Girls” suggests this size bat for 10-11 year old players. According to Cluck, by now I should be swinging a 29-30 ounce 32-33 incher. Yeah, right. I’ve seen the Little League World Series and there are plenty of eleven year olds who are taller than me and outweigh me. So I’m not convinced. I am convinced though that, despite Cluck’s claim that a heavier bat does not produce more power, I did not see a single ball hit to the outfield today using that bat, from me or any of the other women who used it. Maybe it’s just that we’re weaklings–likely–but I do feel like if I can buildup the wrist strength to go up to a 25 ounce at least, especially those models where it feels like that extra 3 ounces is in the sweet spot of the bat, then I think I will be able to hit the ball with more authority. Right now though I’m just pleased to be making contact, hitting the ball on the ground, almost all up the middle and to the right side. As usual, I am the only one not pulling the ball. Why am I the only one with an inside out swing? I don’t know. I wonder if as I get better, if I will speed up and come around on the ball more? Not that I want to. I would rather hit to the right side to advance the runner and up the middle for a base hit. After I hit I went into the field at second and was out there the rest of the morning. Only one hitter (besides the one lefty, one of the Thibeault sisters, who kept pulling them down the first base line) hit the ball to that side, and she was really more up the middle, so I played her there. I had about ten fielding chances, and I think I made about three decent to okay throws, and seven pretty crummy ones. There are three problems in the throwing:

1) Strength: when playing catch, if I can only go to 80 feet when I am really airing it out, I still don’t have the arm strength I want in general
2) Summoning strength: but then sometimes I’ve picked up the ball and only have 50 or 60 feet to throw, and I still airmail it or short hop it because it feels like I can’t summon the arm strength that I DO have on the spur of the moment–I get the ball into my glove, turn to throw, and the ball just dies… but maybe I am rushing something mechanically in this process? or maybe it’s partly that my arm gets stiff while standing around out there?
3) Mental: I still can’t quite visualize what it will look like from my perspective when I throw a pea to first. I just sat and tried it and it is getting clearer, but in that spur of the moment when I’ve charged in for a ball, all my visualization goes out the window. There’s a connection I’m not making here, yet. I need to get the ball in part one and in part two flip the switch for the throw, make it flow with the right mechanics.

So, throwing, throwing, throwing. I had to laugh at Bob Cluck’s exercise program in his book on “how to throw farther in just 30 days.” On day one of the program he says to throw the ball 120 feet, 20 times. From the look of the women and teenagers trying out for the Slaterettes, I’d say maybe three of the twenty who were there today might have been able to do this. No actually, maybe no one there really could. I guess I’ll just stick to throwing with Cheryl and throwing against a wall whenever I can.

Another good note about today: my back did not hurt. Of course since all the soft toss drills we did Thursday, I’ve been putting Ben gay on ever night, taking hot showers every morning, stretching my back twice a day, and also taking regular Ibuprofen. But hey, if that’s what it takes to get a 36 year old through her baseball season, it’s worth it. We were joking around about our ages the other night and one of the Thibeault sisters (sorry, I haven’t learned everyone’s names yet) was saying that her birthday is coming up. “The first anniversary of my turning twenty one,” was how she put it. I laughed. “That makes this the sixth anniversary of my turning thirty.” Andrea then looked at me in shock. “You can’t be thirty six! You look more like twenty four.” “Yeah,” I replied, “but my back is fifty.”

May 7

I met with Cheryl again tonight and we threw and threw and threw. We went up to the indoor basketball courts to air it out a bit better than we could in the batting cages. Cheryl says my arm is getting stronger. I still feel like I have this uncanny ability to throw the ball right to her feet, no matter what distance we are at, but we definitely were further apart than before. I’m not sure if the courts are NBA size or more like high school size, but I would say we were throwing just shy of 90 feet. I know, that doesn’t sound so impressive when you consider that is the distance from second to first. But that is my goal… at least. We worked on throwing and then Cheryl threw grounders and popups for me to field and throw in. Many of my throws were still a little short or just to the side, but hey were close enough that if she were playing on the bag, I would not have pulled her off. Then we spent a few minutes scooping the short hop, which is turning out to be one of my favorite things. Now if only I can execute these motions in a game…

Meanwhile, I still don’t know my position or team with the Slaterettes since there are still some folks the coaches need to see. But all things in good time. Cheryl suggests that I throw every other day while I am still building up strength after that elbow injury I had. But to at least do it every third day. Thursday my writers group meets, so that would make my next throw day Friday. Maybe I can get corwin to go out and throw with me at the schoolyard. If the weather is nice and he doesn’t work late…

I know what I have to do. Now it’s just mind over matter. Put my work in and see how far I can go.

(This has been a repost of an entry in Why I Like Baseball that originally appeared on May 7 2003. Tune in tomorrow for another entry in my baseball player diary.)

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