Almost every kid who plays baseball has a dream of reaching the majors. Some dreams end when you play right field in every one of your Little League games. Others end when you start flinching every time you try to hit a curveball.
I was a good high school pitcher, but when letters from big time colleges didn’t show up in my mailbox, I knew my run was over. An shoulder injury here in college nixed any faint (I mean FAINT) chance I had of moving on.
Everyone always wants that second chance, and although I didn’t get one, an opportunity I received gave me a taste of what being in the majors is like.
John, who is a friend of my father, is buying season tickets in the Legends seats at Yankee Stadium next season, and as a token of appreciation they let him bring two guests along to hit batting practice in Yankee Stadium.
We were in a group of about 40 people, and were very lucky that we each were hitting within the first few spots.
John went first, and considering he hadn’t swung a bat in about ten years he did pretty well. Then my dad took his cuts, knocking a couple into the outfield. John is in his thirties and my dad is fifty, but on this day they looked like a couple of little kids because of all the fun they were having.
The two old-timers had had their cuts, so it was time for me to get up to the plate. The people running the batting practice had misspelled my name on the scoreboard, but I didn’t care. Heck, I was so nervous I didn’t even realize the misspelling until after I was done.
So there I was, standing in the lefty batters box at Yankee Stadium, more nervous than a deer in your headlights. The old routine came back to me: tap the plate twice, adjust the helmet, and waggle the bat back and forth until the pitcher begins his windup.
The pitcher delivered a perfect BP fastball, which was a good thing considering it was batting practice, my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, and I took the biggest swing I could….
The next throw came a little inside and I this time I made contact; right into my ankle. As I hopped around in the box, trying to ward off the pain, I thought to myself, “calm down and hit the damn ball!”
The next swing I took was a nice line drive into right field, the next one headed into center. I had found my groove as I started peppering the outfield, each I made contact the bat made a loud sound. For baseball fans, their is no better sound than a wood bat hitting a baseball, and when you’re the one that’s swinging there is no better feeling in the world.
I was locked in a zone I hadn’t felt since high school, I was determined to make the best out of my amazing opportunity. The jitters were gone; I was just having fun, and considering I hadn’t swung a bat in 2 years I think I did pretty well.
Then the voice I didn’t want to hear quickly broke my concentration. It was the man running the operation saying “four more swings.”
Since I was almost out of time, I had to hit a homerun. I took a big swing and hit one deep down the right field line, toward the wall that has allowed so many homers all year. As the ball began to hook towards the foul pole I leaned to the left , hoping that by some stroke of luck my movement would help the ball change its course. It didn’t, as the ball landed in the seats about two rows foul.
The next two swings I popped up. I was down to my final swing, it was now or never. As I saw the ball take flight toward the right center field wall, my heart leapt into my throat, and buzz came over the other participants. As the ball made it’s descent I stood waiting, hoping, it would go out.
It didn’t, as the ball landed three feet short of the 385 foot sign. As I went back into the dugout, the fact that I had just stood in the Yankee Stadium batters box hit me like a tidal wave. The nerves that had gone away now came back with a vengeance and my arms started shaking, forcing me to sit down.
As I sat in the dugout, I began to take it all in again, still not believing where I was, hoping that nobody felt the inclination to pinch me and wake me up out of this dream.
I may not have hit a home-run, but I definitely got a memory that I will never forget.
PS…Pics from one the greatest days of my life will be posted soon