The 41-Year-Old Rookie
This is the story of my 2006 season with the 38+ Mariners of the Chicago Central Suburban Men’s Senior Baseball League. I was pitching for the first time since high school and chronicled my ups and downs throughout the season on my website before it was a blog. The diary is reproduced here for posterity.
Sunday, May 7
We had our first scrimmage game today (after being rained out last weekend), against the Lugnuts. I went in to pitch the fifth with us already down 7-0. Got the first guy on a fly to left on the first pitch and thought that was an encouraging sign. But with two outs and the bases loaded, I lost the strike zone and we lost the plot and couldn’t get the third out. After about 30 pitches or so, manager Matt Scott took me out to get some other guys some work. The runs were all unearned, and it was a good learning experience. I need more work to be able to hit the strike zone. Still, it felt good, and I had no arm pain. This is going to be an interesting season. We open on May 18 against the Yankees.
Thursday, May 18
Hopefully Opening Night isn’t a sign of things to come to our team – the Yankees beat us 8-1 at Midlothian. They were up 4-0 before they managed their first hit, but some rough defense put starter Stan Nykiel in a hole. He pitched well, but when he was down 5-0 in the fifth, manager Matt Scott had me start warming up. I went in with a man on and one out in the sixth, down 6-0. Managed to get the first hitter on the first pitch on a ground ball to short, advancing the runner. Then I advanced the runner myself with a curveball that bounced away from catcher J.P. Levigne. A base hit to right on a 2-0 fastball brought in the run before the third hitter lined out to second. Two-thirds of an inning, one hit, one wild pitch. If I hadn’t let the inherited runner score, it would have been an excellent (though short) outing. As it was, it was good, and that 0.00 ERA will sit there for the next two months as I can’t play again until July 6 because of other commitments.
Saturday, May 20
I couldn’t make today’s game because my son had a Pony league game at the same time. I probably would have had a chance to pitch in this one, since the team lost 14-1. Ouch. In two games, we’ve been outscored 22-2. Not a good start.
Thursday, July 6
While I was away, the team lost three more in a row, then won a pair (one a forfeit), lost another and had a couple of rainouts, and was 2-5 as we faced the Lugnuts at Village Green in Glen Ellyn.
Obviously, my control didn’t make it back through customs after the trip to Germany.
I got lit up like a Christmas tree, pounded like Paris Hilton, beaten like a rented mule and whatever other analogy you’d like to make.
We were in this one until the 4th, when the Lugnuts broke open a 4-0 game with 8 runs. Paul Johnston, who had been in a groove after giving up four in the first, ran into trouble with one out. Tony Gora went in and got the last two outs, but not before they scored a few more runs. So it was 12-0 at that point and 12-3 when I went in to pitch the fifth.
I walked the first two guys, and the rest was pretty much a blur. A couple of long hits, four walks, a few wild pitches and eight runs later, it was 20-3 and, yes, it got even uglier. The final was 26-3.
On the bright side, I got my first swinging strike and three called strikes, so that’s progress (hey, I’m looking for positives here), but I must not have warmed up enough because I couldn’t find the strike zone at all for the first 20 or so pitches. Arm felt great, no pain. Towards the end, I strained my left quad (my plant leg), probably because of poor mechanics, but possibly exacerbated by a horrendous pitching mound.
One moment of levity, though: I bounced a curveball off a batter’s foot, and came in a few steps from the mound towards home plate to get the ball back from the catcher. The ump said to me, “He gets first base when you hit the batter.”
I said, “Yes, I know, I’ve seen this game played before, on television and stuff.” Jackass.
Anyway, we’re 2-6 and I don’t see any way I pitch Saturday against the Indians. Not that I deserve to. For a weekend game, we should have more guys and more options for pitchers and one of them will doubtless do well.
Saturday, July 8
I was right, I didn’t pitch today, but I did get into the game.
With my quad still strained and our best pitcher going, there was no need for me. But we were losing 9-1 to the Indians when I was sent up to pinch-hit with two outs in the seventh and nobody on. After taking two pitches, I hit a 1-1 fastball to second base. Presumably the only guy more surprised than me that I made contact was the secondbaseman, who booted the ball for an error.
Or so I thought. The generous scorer gave me a hit, which means I have a batting average (1.000) even higher than my ERA (10.45). I think I’m going to refuse to hit the rest of the season just to keep that perfect average, even though I know it isn’t.
I should get to pitch Tuesday night as we only have three pitchers available. It’s at my “home park,” Benedictine University in Lisle as well. Looking forward to it.
Tuesday, July 11
It rained most of last night and today and our game was cancelled, so there went my chance to pitch at home. I can’t make Saturday’s game, so it’ll be more than a week before I get to play again.
Sunday, July 16
I couldn’t play yesterday because my son had a Pony League playoff game at the same time, but I was there bright and early this morning for our game against the Yankees at Midlothian. It was already 86 degrees at 8:30 a.m. and it only got hotter – unbelievably hot. So hot that our right fielder, Larry Burger, was overcome and I went in to replace him in the top of the sixth inning with us leading 5-1. “You mentioned you can play the outfield in a pinch, right?” asked Matt Scott. “Sure,” I said. I didn’t cause any damage out there (had to field one single and throw it back in) and then got to hit in the bottom of the inning. Their pitcher (who we had just touched for four runs the inning before) walked me on a 3-2 fastball that was just outside, and I later scored as we put four more up on the board. An uneventful 7th inning later (well, for me – our center fielder, Vinny Walczak, made an unbelievable diving catch for the final out), we were 9-2 winners and improved to 3-8. Both of our actual on-the-field wins (one was a forfeit) have come with lefthander Stan Nykiel on the mound. Stan pitched a great game today, another complete game in oppresive heat (not that we had many options for relievers) and he had three hits to boot. So we’re 3-8 as we get set for three games in four days (including a doubleheader on Sunday) this coming week.
Thursday, July 20
Another rainout (always seems to happen when we’re scheduled to play close to my house, never when we’re supposed to play all the way down in Midlothian). This weekend we have a doubleheader on Sunday, facing the Yankees at 9:00 am and the unbeaten LaGrange Cardinals at Noon. I figure I’ll get into at least one of those games.
Sunday, July 23
Well, I got into both games today, and we lost them both (I’m not seeing a correlation, though). The Yankees turned around and did to us what we did to them last time around, breaking open a close game and beating us 9-2. Once again, I went in and played two innings in right field (and picked up my first error with a bad throw to third on a single – but we recovered to nail the runner at the plate, so I figure I should get half an assist). Didn’t get up to bat, which is just as well. The Yankees had their best pitcher throwing and it showed. Our best pitcher, Stan Nykiel, hung tough, but we couldn’t do much to help him out.
After a bit of rest, the big, bad Cardinals came in, all nice and rested, and beat us 9-0 without breaking much of a sweat. I pitched the sixth inning (we were already down 6-0) and gave up three more. I walked the first guy and wild pitched him to second on ball four. Gave up an RBI double, too, but rated it a fair performance because I actually got out of the inning, including retiring a former professional player on a long fly to center (God, I love Vinny Walczak) to end the inning after the guy had fouled off about 7 pitches in a row.
Once I got loose, I was able to throw strikes a bit better, but I couldn’t get the curveball over to save my life. One of them prompted a “Hey, Ump, what was the arc on that?” catcall from the Cardinals’ bench. Which is just one reason they’re not particularly well-liked, even though they’re the best team in the league. Now we have two weeks off before our next game, unless we have to make up that most recent rainout between now and then.
My ERA is down (to 8.97 now), and so is my batting average (the same guy I retired struck me out on three pitches that I had no chance on), but I’m having fun. The guys are great, always encouraging, always having fun even though we’re getting beat a lot. I wish we played more often, it’s fun to be part of a team again.
Tuesday, July 25
Stan Nykiel will be our lone representative in the All-Star Game, which will be played this Thursday night at Benedictine. It’s well-deserved, but I wish we could have had more guys on the team (it’s a group of players from our league against a group from some other league or something), we have some really good players despite our 3-10 record.
Saturday, August 5
After two weeks off, we got back into it today against the Diesel Fitters. It turned out to be a wild game. It was 7-7 in the fourth before they scored three times to go up 10-7. We scored one in the sixth and three in the top of the seventh (I pinch ran twice and scored twice, including the run that put us up 11-10). We got two outs with runners on second and third and a hitter up who had been hitting the ball hard all day (the guy due up after him had been hitting nothing but grounders all day). So, of course, you put him on, right? Well, after some debate, we did put him on, absolutely the right play, to set up a force at any base. Of course, the next guy hits a gork over the firstbaseman’s head for two runs and the ballgame. Sometimes the percentages bite you in the butt. Doubleheader tomorrow against the Tigers, so I figure there’s a decent chance I’ll pitch since we used Stan today and he went the distance.
Sunday, August 6
So in the second inning of the first game of the doubleheader (a game we ended up losing 11-5), Manager Matt told me that, oh, by the way, I was starting the second game. Okay, fine. I was hoping to pitch anyway, so starting is no big deal, except I didn’t know how long I could go. I was thinking two innings would be good and three innings would be a dream.
So in the first inning, I loaded the bases but got out of it without a run scoring, throwing mostly a splitter, with the occasional curveball that really doesn’t do anything (though I shook off a fastball and got a guy out on a curve). The guys were making good plays behind me.
In the second inning, I walked in two guys with the bases loaded, but got out of it and left three on. Hit a guy in the shoulder, and the catcalls of “want a first aid kit?” really brought home to me how fricking slow I throw, but it’s about location anyway, and I was getting guys out, again with help from my friends behind me.
I went out for the third inning and I could feel it in my legs, not my arm. Arm felt great. Legs, not so much. It was already my longest stint of the season at that point. They started hitting me hard. A single, a double, a triple, all hit hard. Matt came out, said I could have one more hitter, and I got him on a sac fly to center on my 64th pitch.
We were down 5-0 when I left but we came back to tie 10-10 before losing 11-10 in the bottom of the 7th, so I’m still undefeated.
Progress, anyway. I called it a fair performance, despite seeing my ERA rise to over 11. I got eight outs, got a swinging strike and the splitter worked fairly well. I know now how long I can go, and I have better command of the splitter than I did of just the straight fastball. I know some things I have to work on, like the curve and holding runners, but this season is all about establishing a baseline to work from, considering I haven’t pitched in almost 25 years.
I have to miss next Saturday’s game, but we play Sunday and then Tuesday, so I should get another game soon.
Sunday, August 13
I missed the game yesterday, and found out when I arrived at the field today that I was starting against the Lugnuts. Okay, let’s go.
I didn’t have anything in the bullpen, and didn’t have anything in the game. I sucked. Five walks and six runs later, my day was over and I got the big L in a game we lost 16-3, our seventh straight loss.
Bright spots? I threw over to first okay, but I don’t throw hard enough to give the catcher a chance to throw out baserunners (even when we pitch out, which we did twice), so they stole bases all inning long. I should have been able to get us out of the inning with two outs and only a run in, but I simply couldn’t find the strike zone (even the generous strike zone the home plate ump was giving me – he was calling some pitches strikes before they even got to the plate, which was appreciated, but which I still couldn’t take advantage of).
I also got the curve over a couple of times. Got to two strikes on a couple of hitters. But I’ve got nothing out there, and I don’t know where it’s going to come from.
With only five games left in the season, I don’t see how I’m going to get into another game. My goals of pitching 9 innings as a rookie probably aren’t going to happen. And right now we’re tied for the last playoff spot and falling fast, which is not easy to do when 8 teams in a 9-team league make the playoffs.
Tuesday, August 15
What do you know? We’re in kind of a pennant race. With four games to go, we’re tied for the 8th and final playoff spot with the Diesel Fitters, who we play tonight. Both teams have four games remaining, so tonight’s is fairly critical.
Yes, these are the things you think of when you’re 3-15 and have lost 7 in a row.
Anyway, the game neither team could afford to lose turned out to be a game neither team wanted to win. Unfortunately, we wanted it more than them and wound up losing again, 14-13, our second straight last at-bat loss to these guys.
When we scored five in the top of the first, I thought it was our night. Then they scored five in their half and I thought it would be one of those nights. We eventually went up 12-9 and just needed to close them out in the sixth (curfew was calling) to win it. They scored three times to tie it at 12 (the potential winning run was out at the plate on a wild pitch, causing much consternation). We went back up 13-12 in the top of the 7th, and promptly let them score a pair to win it 14-13.
So now they’re a game up on us with three left to play. We have the Dodgers (14-4) twice and the Angels (9-8) once, while they play the Yankees (5-13) twice and the Tigers (9-8) once.
I didn’t get into the game, but kept the scorebook really well, I thought.
I would imagine Stan Nykiel will pitch Sunday against the Dodgers and he’s been completing everything he starts lately. I will likely miss the first game of the season-ending doubleheader on the 27th, meaning if I don’t pitch in the last game of the year, my rookie season is done.
Sunday, August 20
We only had 10 guys for our game against the second-place Dodgers, so I got a mercy start at designated hitter, hitting 10th against one of the best pitchers in the league. I drew a walk from him the first time up (considering he’d only walked four guys all year before that, I felt pretty good about it), struck out looking the second time up (considering he’d struck out a lot of guys, I didn’t feel too badly about it) and hit the ball hard (left-handed, no less) for a groundout to end the game. We lost, 6-2. Again, I kept a mean scorebook.
Two games to go, a doubleheader of sorts next Sunday. Game one against the Angels and game two against the Dodgers again. We’d have to win both and hope the Diesel Fitters lose their last three to get into the playoffs and get the right to get whacked by the Cardinals.
Tuesday, August 21
Turns out I’m starting Sunday against the Angels, and I may have to go the route because we may only have 9 guys. I’m looking forward to hopefully having a decent outing and at least leaving my rookie season with a good taste in my mouth.
Sunday, August 27
Three months after it began, my rookie season came to an end in a doubleheader against the Angels and the Dodgers. Like the rest of the season, it showed some promise and some reminders of how hard this game really is, and, as all too often, the end result was two losses by the Mariners.
I felt good warming up. I tried a shorter delivery from the stretch in the bullpen and was throwing strikes with it. Since I knew I’d have people on base, I took that as a good sign.
Then, the game, against a .500 Angels team. We scraped up exactly 9 guys to play, though some were out of position, including Garth Wade, who showed up and was drafted despite a seriously sprained ankle that left him hardly able to move. He played first so he wouldn’t have to be too mobile.
The first inning was a dream. In fact, if I didn’t have video of it (shot by my son), I might not believe it actually happened. It was a 1-2-3 top of the first on just seven pitches, including one that got out last year’s batting champion in the 28+ league’s upper division, or so they tell me. It was unreal.
Went out for the second inning, and while it wasn’t quite as fabulous (an error, a walk, a two-run single), I still got out of it with only two runs scoring and, for me, two runs in two innings was a major accomplishment.
Then came the third. The Angels hung a 5-spot on me, as I walked a bunch of guys, we had a couple of errors, and I almost got our left fielder, Vinny Walczak, killed trying to chase down fly balls they hit off me. The umpire was being kind, giving me outside pitches and not calling a pair of balks, but, still, we were down 7-0.
It got worse. They scored 9 runs in the fourth (I walked a couple of guys with the bases loaded and they were hitting the ball pretty hard) to go up 16-0. Meanwhile, their two pitchers combined on a no-hitter (I grounded into a force for the final out) in a game shortened by the mercy rule. It wasn’t until I saw the final stats days later that I realized I had walked nine guys – I honestly didn’t think it was that many. Guess it was.
It probably seems odd to grade that performance as “fair,” but considering I thought the first two innings were really good and the last two were really bad, it’s one of those rare days when you can give up 16 runs and not feel too badly about it.
Why? I felt good about a lot of things:
- I went four innings, my longest stint of the season.
- I had a 1-2-3 inning, my first ever.
- A couple of curveballs I threw actually did what they were supposed to do, for once.
- At least one guy swung and missed a pitch, which doesn’t happen all that often.
- I was making them hit the ball, at least. I didn’t walk nearly as many guys as usual.
All in all, I’ll go with fair. I gave it everything I had and while I’m still sore as I write this, two days later, it’s a good kind of sore.
Anyway, with still only 9 guys, I had to play in the second game against the Dodgers, and had 7 uneventful innings in right field while going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts (against the league leader in strikeouts). We had a chance to win it, tied 4-4 with two out in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t close them out and lost our eleventh straight, 7-4. We finished up 3-19 (with one of the three wins a forfeit), having lost 15 of our last 16 games.
As for me, I finished fourth on the staff in innings pitched (with a big 10), went 0-2 with a 9.80 ERA and an ungodly 25 walks, but a sense of having laid a base for something. I know what I can do and what I can improve on. I’m optimistic about what can happen if I lose some weight, gain some strength, and work on that elusive curveball that just started to come around in that last start of the season.
We had a great group of guys who were fun to be around. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun being part of a team again. I’m looking forward to winter workouts, which will start in about four and a half months or so.
By next season, I won’t be a rookie and I won’t be 41 anymore. But I’ll keep the number as a reminder of my first season back in the game in more than 20 years. I don’t think it’ll be my last.
APP=Appearance number | OPP=Opponent | IP=Innings Pitched | H=Hits Allowed
R=Runs Allowed | ER=Earned Runs Allowed | BB=Walks | K=Strikeouts
DEC=Decision | ERA=Season Earned Run Average
Postscript: I did pitch the next season, but I was actually (much, much) worse and so was our team. Some offseason instruction gave me completely different mechanics, and I was never able to use them to my advantage. We went 3-19 and I contributed mightily, with a 23.62 ERA in six appearances. I never could find the strike zone (though I did get the curve ball to curve), but I did get my first three career strikeouts and a double-play grounder to get out of a tough spot in another game. At the end of the season, I moved to Arizona and, to this point, have not pitched competitively again. Perhaps that’s as it should be.