I throw another hand full of seeds into my month and wrap my jacket tighter around me.
Man it’s cold today…wish the wind would quit blowing….I’m freezen!
We’re in the second game of another weekend doubleheader at home. We’re up by a run going into the 7th inning. As cold as I am I can’t believe she’s still here, in the stands, watching this game. Why doesn’t she go sit in the car? Or why is she even still here?
She sits there huddled in her blanket by herself, just watching. She likes baseball….or so she tells me. She comes to every game she can, and even some she can’t by rearranging her work schedule and having someone cover for her at Olive Garden so she can be here…..sitting in the stands, on hard bleachers….watching me…..sit here on this hard bench spitting seeds.
That’s the thing about being a relief pitcher, you do a lot of sitting around, a lot of watching baseball rather than playing it, and a lot of charts…..so many charts.
Yet she sits there, willing to watch and wait to see if this is the game I’ll play in. I can tell she’s cold, heck she’s always cold, but today it’s freezing.
We’ve only known each other for 3 months, happened to take a couple classes together last quarter and then ended up signing up for extra credit in biology by going to elementary schools and teaching kids about microscopes. That’s where we met…..in our professor’s car full of microscopes on the way to an elementary school. We started talking, and have been talking ever since. There’s nothing romantic about it, we’re just friends….good friends, and as good friends do she’s her to support me…..sitting on this bench….chewing on some sunflower seeds.
“Utecht! You’re up!”
I look down toward the dugout where the pitching coach is standing making the number 1 with his left hand and number 2 with his right to indicate my number. He then gives the sign that means hurry up and get warm.
I peel off my jacket and instantly the numbing cold that has been slowly making its way into my bones the past 16 innings of sitting here is gone, replaced with a rush of adrenaline. I grab my mitt drop it on the mound and quickly sprint to the outfield wall and back to loosen my legs. As I run back in I take in the situation on the field.
Men on 1st and 2nd….how many outs (looking at the score board) 1 out, full count. Come on Corey….roll a double play and get out of this.
I get back to the mound a little out of breath and the catcher is waiting for me with a ball. We play catch next to the mound snapping the ball back and fourth to each other as quickly as possible to get my arm loose.
Our pitcher walked the batter and now the bases are loaded with one out. The coach steps out of the dugout again and looks down the sideline at me giving the hurry up and get warm sign. I was always known for getting warm quickly and obviously coach doesn’t want me wasting any time.
Come on Corey…..ground ball and you’re out of it.
I step up on the mound in the bullpen and the catcher squats behind the plate and I start to throw.
Fastball, Fastball, Change Up
I stop throwing and look up to see a base hit into left field. The left fielder gets to the ball quickly and gets it back in….only one run scores.
Fastball, Change Up
The coach walks out to the mound to have a talk with the pitcher, as he does he glances down to me.
He’s not bringing me in now is he? I’ve only thrown like 5 pitches.
Fastball, Curve, Fastball
The umpire walks out to the mound to tell the coach he has to go back to the dugout or make a change. The coach points down to the bullpen indicating that he’ll make a change…..and I’m it.
“Utecht! You’re in!”
Crap! I’m not warm….I didn’t even have time to focus on location!
I throw one more fastball to the catcher and then jog into the game. The coach and catcher are waiting for me on the mound.
There’s only one response…and every baseball player knows what it is.
“Good….1 Out bases juiced….get us out of this Utecht!”
“You got it coach!”
He puts the ball in my glove and turns to head back to the dugout. The catcher puts his mitt over his mouth so the other team can’t read his lips when we’re talking.
“The usual?” he says and I can see the grin on his face through his glove.
“Yeah….the usual….two pitches and let’s get out of here!”
He jogs back to the plate and I get 10 pitches to warm up.
At least they give me 10 pitchers out here….heck that’s more I got in the pen! OK….now focus….Fastball outside corner.
POP! The ball hits the catcher’s mitt on the outside corner of the plate.
That’s good now fastball again, you can’t show the change-up now….the guys standing right there getting the timing down….only fastballs.
To high….you leave the pitch up there and you’ll make this guy a hero Utecht….keep the ball down…follow through.
Better….now come inside…paint the corner nice and low, follow through.
OK….now a curve ball….let him know you have something other than a fastball.
I get the ball back from the catcher and turn around and head back up the mound for the next pitch. I take a deep breath and throw.
I get the ball back from the catcher again and this time I see her sitting there, just off to the right of the catcher four rows up in the stands, huddled up in her blanket. She sees me see her and she smiles.
Keep the ball down Utecht…..
It’s a strange thing when you’re playing baseball. In that moment on the mound there are few things you hear. I can’t hear the other team cheering on their teammate at the plate, or my own team behind me cheering me on. No….I only hear the wind and my thoughts.
I throw my last warm up pitch, get the ball back from the catcher and head back up the mound.
“Utecht…you and me on a come backer” the shortstop yells at me. I nod my head to let him know that I heard him and get ready to do my job.
The catcher gives the sign…..fastball!
Outside corner, keep the ball down and make it count!”
My specialty is getting guys out with just two pitches. I have great location (most of the time). I’m not over powering topping out at around 78mph but I have a change-up that’s pretty good.
In baseball it’s all about location and speed. The change-up works in that it looks like a fastball, moves like a fastball but it travels around 10mph less than a fastball. Research shows that the human brain takes about 20 seconds to forget location and speed of an object. So if you can through your fastball followed by a change-up within 20 second of each other and locate them close enough to the plate, the human brain sees the same pitch, swings the same way, and if all goes as planned hits a slow roller to the shortstop.
“STRIKE!” the umpire yells
Perfect….now change nothing, think fastball and let the grip do the work.
My teammates behind me all know what’s coming next. I’m not throwing this pitch to get a strike out, I just want to get the batter out on his front foot, take hi
s power away, and have him roll a nice ground ball to the shortstop. We turn a double play and go bat.
I get the ball back from the catcher and I can’t help but glance up at her sitting there. A grin on her face as we’ve talked about this exact situation more times than she’s probably wanted to. She knows what’s next, we all know what’s next….except the batter.
The catcher gives the sign…..change-up!
Think fastball, think fastball, think fastball
As soon as the ball leaves my hand I know it’s going where I want it to…low outside part of the plate. The batter starts his swing, his brain then realizes that he’s started to early and tries to hold up, but it’s to late, his muscles have already committed to swinging the bat. He makes contact and the ball bounces about two feet in front of the plate and I catch it waste high. I turn, make a solid throw to 2nd base, there’s nobody there but he’ll be there. As the ball sails over the bag, seemingly out of nowhere the shortstop is there, catches the ball, sweeps his foot across the back of the bag, and throws to first base. The runner at first is out by two steps. A perfect double play!
I turn like every pitcher does, pretending that it’s just another out and slowly walk to the dugout. As I start to walk, the noise of the crowd cheering hits me. I look up in the stands to see her there clapping and a big smile across her face. I wink at her, put my head back down, and make my way into the dug out.
That’s it for me….my day is done, two pitches, two outs. I put my jacket back on, get a couple more high fives in the dugout, and start rooting on my teammates now at bat.
She watches the rest of that game, and will watch every game she can of mine from that day forward.
14 years later as I play pickup games here and there, she’s still there, sitting in the stands, about 4 rows behind the catcher just to the right. That same little smile that only I can see, and an understanding of my love for this game that only she gets.
As another baseball season begins today I’m excited to spend yet another season watching baseball with my wife. She truly is a baseball fan. We listen or watch games here in Thailand over the Internet together and spend our summers at Safeco Field in Seattle cheering on our favorite team. So here’s to you my love, may this baseball season be another one to remember.