I remember playing stickball out in Brooklyn four or five summers back. On one particular afternoon I was pitching and getting pounded. I wasn’t fooling the batters with anything. If I tried to be cute, I wasn’t coming anywhere near the box on the wall. When I tried my best David Wells and simply put the ball over the plate, they murdered me.
So there I was, getting pounded, aiming the ball, with no confidence that I could throw strikes or record an out. Now, this was a friendly game of stickball, played with a group of semi-competent/semi-serious jocks. At one point, when I looked exasperated, my brother, who was on my team that day, walked over to me. I took off my cap and mopped my brow with the top of the hat and exhaled. Man, was it hot. I was red-faced and sweating and feeling all alone. And guilty. Here I am costing my team runs and my two fielders are standing around with their hands in their pants waiting for you to stop stinkin up the jernt.
“You okay?” He asked and touched my arm. He knew I was starting to implode and also knew there was nothing he could do to make it any better. But he’d been in the same spot before, just as I had been in the position of ptiching well, retiring hitters with relative ease. “Hey, this is supposed to be fun, remember?”
Oh yeah, funny how it’s hard to lose sight of that when you can’t throw a strike and everything else you toss up there is getting whacked around the vicinity. Mind you, this was just a knock around game of stickball played by some baseball nerds in Brooklyn on a Saturday morning.
But at the very least, it was a simulation of the same situations pitchers encounter all the time. This came to mind this evening when I stumbled across “Pitchers Do Get Lonely,” a column that Ira Berkow published in the New York Times back on July 22, 1987. The lead went as follows:
With the Yankees losing 18-3, in the bottom of the eighth in Texas–even after a few days, the score still reads like a typographical error—Lou Piniella did the unusual, though not the unreasonable. Rather than waste one of his regular relief pitchers in that forlorn enterprise, he saved his sirloin and served the Rangers chopped liver.
The chopped liver was Rick Cerone, normally a catcher.
Cerone was fetched because he sometimes throws batting practice, and gets the ball over the plate. Cerone admitted later that he was excited about pitching in a game. “It’s something you always dream about,” he said.
He arrived with the bases loaded and none out and, though he balked once and allowed two runners to score, he retired the Rangers on three straight batters, which included a near-grand slam by Ruben Sierra and a near-home run by Bobby Witt.
How did he feel on the mound?
“Scary,” said Cerone. “It’s lonely out there.”
Amen to that, dude. It sure can be.