Right, so some of you are wondering how that went I guess. Well, sit back because I have a story for ya!
First off, Just as I said I would the night before, I did in fact show up a couple of hours early to check out the field we’d be working out on. Needless to say, it had a few problems. The first of which was that it’s February in Northwest Oregon. For those of you not native to this part of the country, allow me to explain that the late fall to late spring is pretty much the rainy season. And by “rainy” I mean to say “You better have evolved some flippers and gills, otherwise life’s gonna pretty much suck”. Thankfully it didn’t rain last night. But it had been pretty much pouring non stop for the last couple of days beforehand, which leads us to the next problem.
You see, Westmoreland Park (The place we had the tryout) is pretty much built right alongside the Willamette River. Because of this, the ground is already moist and heavy with river/ground water. Now, if you combine this with the already constant flow of rain we experience here during the cooler seasons, and you begin to wonder who’s brilliant idea it was to build a baseball stadium atop a swamp. Whoever it was, if you are reading this, then allow me to say congratulation- a retard is you!
The final problem were the ducks. I swear by all that’s holy, there were HUNDREDS of the little fuckers. They were all over the field, doing whatever it is ducks do. As my luck would have it, one things ducks definitely do is shit. This is something they do a lot of. And they do most of that all over baseball fields it seems, since the ENTIRE area was covered in a thin green layer of mud and shit. Now mind you, it doesn’t reek or anything like that. But still… we’d have to be running around, diving after line drives, sliding into bases and such in something that came out another creature’s butt. Awesome.
Another thing I learned about ducks: They’re strangely territorial. As I approached the field, most of them stood their ground. But there were a couple that thought it’d be a brilliant idea to charge toward me, wings all spread out and quacking maniacally. I’m also pretty sure they understand English too: When I muttered to them that it might not be a smart move to get pissy with a guy holding a thick wood baseball bat, they quickly quieted down and went back to the others. Hmm…
So with all that out of the way, I figured this to be as good a time as any to warm up a bit, get loose before festivities really get underway, and get my pitching mechanics to where they needed to be.
Except for one thing: Barring the flock of ducks on the diamond, the pitcher’s mound had somehow taken on the likeness of a miniature replica of Crater Lake. There was no way I was going to attempt throwing off that without water wings. And since I was led to believe there wouldn’t be a need, I left my set at home. Oh well. I figured I’d check out the bullpen mounds. And then I find that the entryways to both bullpens were locked. Okay… guess I’ll be throwing from flat ground. Good fucking luck trying to find a patch of flat ground that I didn’t sink three inches into. I opted for the sidewalk instead.
After doing some tossing off and on for an hour or two, I noticed that people began slowly filing in. At first, there were maybe one or two others. But then right around noon, people began to just appear out of the blue. It looked as though things were gonna really start happening. I went ahead and got ready. As I was putting on my cleats, a younger fella asked me if I wanted to long toss with him after he jogged the field. “Sure!” I said, my most game smile plastered upon my face. But inside, I was shitting myself with fear.
See, as I’ve explained in the past, it’s rather tough for me to throw overhand without pain, dislocation of my arm, or a complete loss of control. And when you long toss, that’s what you’re doing. When the kid came back, I let out a deep sigh and went out onto the field with him, figuring that as soon as I uncorked that first painful wild throw, I was going to be sent home.
But then, something happened. And by something, I mean nothing bad. My first throw was not only smooth, loose and pain-free, but it was actually dead on target. So was the second. And the third. And so on. The only thing that actually hurt was my left hand from catching this kid. He had a gun arm, for sure.
And so it went for about twenty minutes or so, until the both of us decided to do some jogging and warmups. At this point, I was feeling pretty damn good about things! And then, finally, the guy running the league called everybody in.
This guy and the league’s respective managers stood together in a group as the league president explained how the format of the tryout would be: Some (more) long toss, and then he’d call all outfielders to the field to do some fielding drills, the infielders would go to the second base area to work on grounders, while the catchers would throw to one another. Another group would take ten swings of batting practice. Which is great and all, but what about those of us who are pitchers?
Somebody asked him this, and his response began with “Oh…..”. Yeah. Real good sign there, Boss.
“Well… alright. Pitchers line up at their secondary positions” he finally managed to say. And you know what? That makes perfect sense. Let’s wear out the guys who make their mark pitching before they even get a chance to throw bullpen. Guy’s a regular George S. Patton all up in here! Judging from the quiet groans in the crowd, I wasn’t the only one thinking this. Or maybe it was Zombies among us. Whatever. As long as I get to pitch I thought as I jogged to the outfield.
I lined up with the rest of those waiting to do fielding drills. And as we waited, I could overhear bits and pieces of conversation in the line.
“They’re not even gonna have us run a 40?”, came one voice.
“Is the guy running this even watching us?”, came another.
“It doesn’t make sense to have pitchers line up and work at another position. Our arms are gonna be fucking jello by the time we’re done!”, a younger kid who looked fresh outta high school exclaimed.
“Gonna be?”, said the guy standing next to him. “Mine already is”
I didn’t say anything to this, but I had to admit to myself, if not anyone else: After almost an hour and a half of long toss, my arm was feeling really wobbly too.
Here’s what I DID say aloud though, to nobody in particular: “I’m way too old for this shit, I think…”
The guy standing next to me asked me how old I was. When I told him I’d be 39 this coming June, he looked wide-eyed at me. “Goddamn! I thought I was old!”. When I asked him his age, he said he was thirty-two. Yeah that’s me: Methuselah Hudson, Lord Of Greybeards! Now get the hell off of my lawn!
And then, it was my turn to shag flyballs. And yeah, here’s another great idea: Let’s go ahead and show off the WEAKEST part of my game first. Wanna thrill to the sight of an old fart overrunning deep flies? I got that! Wanna ooh and ahh at the spectacle of this man as he loses balls in the sun? I can give you that too! Bloody hell…
There was only ONE positive thing I could take away from that. After every turn I took, whether I actually caught the ball or not, I’d hear somebody comment to the effect of “Holy shit! Old dude’s got some wheels!” Which means that while I may be a shitty outfielder, I’m at least quick about it. It’s the little things.
After this, we were all called back. This time, we were told to rotate; My group of outfielders would now be taking batting practice. We were also informed that due to the condition of the field, we wouldn’t actually be playing a game today. So after the respective drills, we’d either be picked to play on a team or sent home. Would it have really killed these people to put up some tarp on the field beforehand? I mean, we’re not in Nevada here. We’re in FUCKING NORTHWEST OREGON! You know… that place where it RAINS 200 DAYS PER YEAR ON AVERAGE!? I’m not saying y’all are incompetent or anything. But this has already been a clusterfuck of a day. And ya know, a little bit of foresight coulda helped.
Honestly, I think my frustration stems from the fact that me and the other boys are doing all of this work, and it’s all going to come to nothing since we can’t show what we know where it counts: In a game.
In any case, I grabbed my bat and helmet and lined up to take my swings. And I can tell you this: Whatever was left of my arm that didn’t slough off from hours of longtoss followed by thirty minutes of fielding flyballs and throwing them to a cutoff man finally just went as I swung away. And I wonder if this is normal or I’m not nearly in as good of shape as I’d thought. I don’t ever seem to remember it being this hard when I was young…
I wasn’t too terrible though; I smacked a couple of decent line drives. Nothing too major or anything. But hey, it’s better than swinging, missing, and falling on my ass. Right?
Finally, the coaches told us pitchers to go to another spot on the field to throw bullpen. But we were more like an afterthought. The attitude was more like, “Alright, you guys go over there and do something while we look at the REAL players”. I realized my presumptions were correct when I lined up to take my turn and noticed that NOBODY was watching us. It was pretty depressing too. I mean, if they were watching at the exact moment I was thinking the above to myself, they woulda noticed that the kid pitching ahead of me (The kid who was echoing my sentiments about the logic of having pitchers drill in the outfield) had a pretty decent curve.
And so, it came time for me to start. My heart started pounding, and my thoughts turned to panic. My arm felt deader than Cobain. I wondered just how much I’d have to give. But then I took a deep breath and remembered that I’m working on a knuckleball. I’m not exactly trying to be Nolan Ryan and burn that shit in at 100mph. And indeed, if I’m throwing a knuckler at speeds like that, I’m doing it wrong.
From my perspective, I didn’t see anything wrong with my first few pitches; All were in the strike zone. And all were really, really soft. But after pitch number two, the catcher exclaimed, “Holy shit! What the fuck IS this?”. He had trouble catching up to the pitch. By the time the fourth pitch started off high, only to wind up bonking him atop his helmet did he stop and stand. He took his mask off and asked me if I was pitching a knuckler. I confirmed that indeed, I was. “Well… could you just throw some fastballs? I can’t catch any of these” he asked. And I figured I might as well. If the coaches couldn’t be bothered to give a shit, I certainly wasn’t going to. And it’s at this point where my arm fatigue showed. I was overthrowing everything, and my pitches were sailing entire timezones away from the strike zone. But then after a deep breath, and some time to collect myself I was able to get it back. Velocity wasn’t the greatest, but my pitches still had nice movement, and they were in the zone. And then, on my last couple of pitches, I decided to experiment with a curveball (Something that believe it or not, I’d never really been able to throw). And to my surprise, it worked perfectly, with that beautiful loopy diagonal break to it. My catcher was pretty impressed too, judging from his words of encouragement.
But alas, it was time for my session to end. I went back to the bleachers to stretch out the kinks and just chill before things wrapped up. And it was here while I was snacking on granola and chugging gatorade that I’d noticed that my bullpen catcher had taken a seat next to me and struck up a conversation.
“You really ended the day on a good note, bud.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Yeah… too bad we’re not going to be picked.” He sighed and shook his head.
“Why do you think that?” I asked, though I had my ideas as to why.
“We’re too old. The guy running this thing was talking to me about it. He said we can practice and have fun, but it’s too competitive for us.”
Wait…. WHAT!? So, lemme see if I got this straight: Even though baseball is a sport, and therefore inherently competitive, it’s TOO competitive for us!? How does that even make sense? Just because I’m old, I can’t compete? Wow. And how the fuck would he know anyway? From watching me shag flyballs? From watching me hit? Newsflash, Einstein: I’m a pitcher. Yes, I may occasionally be called upon to hit in a tight spot. And yes, there will be times where I’ll be needed to field a flyball or comebacker to the mound. But make no mistake: In order to effectively gauge a pitcher’s worth, you ACTUALLY HAVE TO WATCH THEM PITCH!
“Well, I’m going to stick around.” I told the catcher (whom I’d soon learn was named Ken). “Who knows? Maybe he can offer us something. I mean, isn’t there a 30 and over league too?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking I was trying out for!” he retorted.
At that point, the mind-boggling foolishness of it all struck me and I said to myself: “Fuck it. I’m going to have a smoke right here” And smoke up I did.
Almost immediately after my smoke, as though waiting for my cue. The League Owner/President/Whatever called us all back. He told everybody that those who were getting drafted will be taken aside by the individual team managers. And for those who didn’t get drafted, if they could pay a league fee today, he’d get them hooked up with a team. But to four of us, he immediately said “You guys would be at a disadvantage.”
At a what now?
He went on to elaborate: “There are young players here. We got ex-pros (True: I saw a guy work out in full Lansing Lugnuts gear), we have young college players, and stuff. You guys need a league that’s more suited for your (read: Old) style”
Long story short: He gave us some info about another indy league in the Pacific Northwest region, told us the name of the guy we’d need to contact, and then he said he’d put in a word for us.
I contacted the league first thing when I got home, and I got a response this morning saying that I’d definitely be contacted when tryouts began.
Why am I doing this again?