Wednesday, August 16, 2006

#2 - The Day G-R-E-G Couldn't Spell "Relief"

Let me start out by saying that for any normal person, this memory would top their personal list of most embarrassing baseball blunders. But unfortunately I’m not normal and this one is only #2 for me. In fact, I began to have doubts that this event happened quite the way I remembered it. So I recently asked my dad, “Hey, do you remember when…” and he solemnly answered, “Yes.”

Sadly, this is the story of the time I was on the wrong side of a “sports miracle."

I was 10 years old, and it was the summer of 1990. At the time, I lived in southwestern Ohio where the Cincinnati Reds were on their journey to winning the World Series. Naturally, every day at the local ballparks people were talking about the Reds, and my team was no different. In fact, the head coach and assistant coach of my baseball team would repeatedly compare me to Reds players throughout the season. For a 10-year old it was kind of flattering at first, but then it got a little eerie.

For instance, whenever I got my flattop trimmed, the assistant coach would remark, “I can’t get over how much you look like Chris Sabo.” Granted, Chris Sabo and I were both white, wore goggles, and had a flattop, but making the comparison once is enough. However, he kept bringing it up. In fact, toward the end of the season he was calling me “Chris” and my dad and I would have to keep correcting him.

Then there was our head coach. He was a big, tough guy with a thick (read “manly”) mullet and facial hair who loved watching the Reds (and I think he fantasized about being the fourth member of “The Nasty Boys.”) He and I got along just fine because, for some odd and unexpected reason, I reminded him of Tom Browning. You see, as the head coach explained to me time and time again, I was “left-handed” and “worked quickly on the mound,” so therefore I reminded him of Tom Browning. (After a while I quit contemplating this odd comparison and was just glad that he was letting me play both first base and pitcher.)

Speaking of pitching, at the tender age of ten I had already mastered three pitches. My bread and butter pitch was the meatball. But of course, to keep batters off balance I would sometimes switch to the meatball. And if I ever got into a really tight spot, then I’d dig deep into my bag of tricks and surprise them all with my meatball.

Okay, so I didn’t have great stuff, but I was pretty consistent at throwing strikes. In fact, probably a little too consistent considering my velocity wasn’t exactly overpowering. Overall, I was just an average little league pitcher—with one glaring exception...

It was the latter half of the season, and my team was in the middle of the pack in the standings. We were decent but probably not going to make much noise in the playoffs. However, on this sunny summer afternoon that all seemed to be changing, for we were playing our best ball of the season. We were playing against another one of those middle-of-the-pack teams and on this day we could do no wrong. It was one of those games where we’d score a few runs, then shut them out, score a few more runs, then shut them out, and so on. In our league we only played 6 innings and had all sorts of “mercy rules.” In the fifth inning of this game we had a 12-0 lead, so we were very close to the kill. That’s when our head coach decided to make a call to the bullpen for “Tom Browning.” So instead of heading out to first base, I took the mound; and I’m sure somewhere from the dugout the assistant coach hollered, “Go get ‘em, Chris!”

Now, despite the fact that this memory is 16 years old, I distinctly remember the thought floating through my mind as I warmed up on the mound, “There’s no way I can blow a 12-run lead.” But quickly I put that thought out of my mind because surely I could give up enough runs to let them back in the game and then I’d be removed. I didn’t want that to happen, so despite our huge lead, I had to take this seriously. Every pitch counted.

Starting out, things went okay. I mean, yeah, I gave up a few hits, a few walks, and we made a few errors. But two runs crossing the plate isn’t all that bad. Sure, there’s nobody out yet, but if I had gotten that called third strike instead of ball four, we’d be in good shape. Besides, we’re bound to get an out soon, maybe even a double play seeing as how the bases are loaded.

But the pattern continued. I was able to work most batters deep into the count, but whenever it came to the critical pitch, it always seemed to be ball 4, a hit, or an error. Eventually, the score narrowed to 12-7. Still bases loaded, nobody out, and the other team’s bench had more than come alive; it was now a full blown party with everyone on their feet, wearing their rally caps, and cheering. (And I’m sure at least one of the kids was hopping around and dancing like nobody was watching.) At this point, I remember pacing around the mound and knowing, right or wrong, my spirit was broken and I wanted out.

But the head coach didn’t make the move; and I was now frustrated beyond belief. From that point on I only remember four things:

#1) Somehow, some way we got an out and it gave me hope.

#2) Our shortstop booted a grounder and I glared at him for a long time.

#3) I blew the entire lead before finally getting the hook.

#4) We lost the game.

I don’t remember anything that happened directly after the game, except to say that it’s kind of like when one of your relatives abandons his wife and three kids to run off with his gay lover. Nobody in the family talks about it.

5 comments:

Chairman said...

Greg

Did anyone draft you in the fantasy legue that year? Really, if there were all these errors, your ERA wouldn't be so bad, though your WHIP would take a bit of a hit.

What you need to remember is that you need to periodically throw a ball at the next guy's mouth when you're getting the carousel. With young pitchers, it's all about pitch counts. Why take up a bunch of pitches to walk some guy when you can just put one in his mouth? Most importantly? Hitting batters doesn't hurt your WHIP.

I can't wait until I get to coach little league. It'll be my own little fantasy baseball league with little people out there hitting the baseball and throwing at the little guys on the other team.

-Chairman

Chairman said...

On the other hand, you could have refused to enter the game since it wasn't a save situation.

-Chairman

Greg said...

Chairman,

You make some interesting points. If I had only added a fourth pitch, the beanball...

Admittedly, I really had no concept of what it meant to really be a pitcher in those days. For instance, one time I remember some really BIG kid with major power but no wheels came to the plate. As usual, I just wanted to throw a strike, but my first pitch landed in front of the plate. But guess what? He swung. Second pitch, I still wanted to throw a strike, but again, it landed in front of the plate. Nevertheless, he swung and it was strike two. Third pitch? You guessed it. I finally "succeeded" and put the ball right down the middle--and it was smashed all the way to the fence. I had learned my lesson.

lisa :) said...

I don't know about "Relief" but G-R-E-G definitely spells "Funny"! Thanks for another great story.

Flyin J said...

You probably should have just pulled yourself. I was pretty mediocre in my day. I was the yin to your yang. I could throw immensly hard, but where it went was anybodys guess. But back on to the track. i once just walked over to one of our other pitchers who was at third at the time and gave him the ball. I couldn't close out the inning, and the coach obviously wasn't going to pull me.