My brother thinks that hitting a pitched major league baseball is the most difficult act in all of sports. Now, brother certainly has a right to his opinion. After all, he was a very good baseball player in his day and a winning coach for many years. So I'm not stepping on his right to voice his opinion.
However, I must strongly disagree. In fact, I will go a step further and say hitting a pitched major league baseball is one of the easiest acts to do in all of sports.
Not that I ever was a great hitter. Even when I played slow pitch for West's Lounge for ten years, I was one of the weaker hitters on the team. Could play third base defensively quite well, thank you, but wasn't a threat at the plate like my friend Dave Sikorski, who could rap a slow pitched softball in the right field corner when the game was on the line.
So let me give you a 'true story' example of why I disagree with my brother. A few years back I received a special birthday present that sent me to the Phillies Dreamweek. That's where aged players go to Clearwater, Florida, for a week and play baseball, wearing a Phillies uniform. For five days in the hot Florida sun in January, 'Dreamers', as they are called, play two games a day. Then, on the last day of camp, the "Dreamers" play the Pros, a team made up of former Phillies players. On the night before the Pro game, additional former Phillies fly in to attend the banquet and play in the game on the following day. And let me tell you, it ain't slow pitch.
At the banquet prior to the Pros/Dreamers game, I sit next to former Phillies reliever Steve Bedrosian (above). Bedrosian, also known as Bedrock, was a relief pitcher in the Show from 1981 until his retirement in 1995. In 1987, he was the Phillies closer, going 5-3, with 40 saves and a 2.83 ERA, and winning the NL Cy Young Award. Bedrock had a lightening-fast, fast ball, no doubt. But a few drinks at the banquet and sitting next to Bedrock, I'm thinking I'm not Ron but maybe Mike Schmidt.
At one point during the banquet, I ask Bedrock politely, if he still had some 'gittie-up' on his fastball. He said, "Costy;" the Pros called me Costy. "Costy, let's put it this way. Tomorrow, you won't even see the ball." To which I said, "We'll see."
During the game at Jack Russell Stadium, I played first base for the Dreamers. I had pitched three games during the week and could barely lift my arm, so Pat Corrales, our manager, put me at first. The Pros were pounding the ball all over the yard and we could barely get three outs on them. Former relief pitcher Mitch Williams hit a bullet line-drive over the left field wall and I can't ever remember hearing the sound of a bat hitting a ball like that.
In the fourth inning, Bedrock came to bat and hit a shot off our shortstop's glove and he beat the throw to first. As I caught the ball, I watched Bedrock run down the line with his back to me, and the thought hit me faster than a Manhattan on an empty stomach. I pretended to toss the ball back to our pitcher, whose name, I think, was Ken Silver, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I kept the ball, and told Kenny to stay off the mound. He picked it up right away and shook his head yes, and he did indeed remain on the grass behind the pitcher's mound.
I went back to first, set up slightly behind the bag, with my glove on my hip and the ball hidden inside. Bedrosian comes back to first, steps on the bag, and immediately takes a two-step lead. I step forward, lean over, and swat his butt with my glove, prompting the first base umpire to yell, "Runner's ouuuuut."
As you can imagine, Bedrosian was ticked. He glared at me and walked slowly back to the dugout. Meanwhile, the Pro-dugout was getting on me big time. Clint Hurdle, who just managed the Rockies into the World Series, was Commissioner of Dream Week and was playing for the Pros. Hurdle has a booming voice and I could hear him yelling my name but I can't say--at least on this family blog--what he was saying.
And of course, I was due up next inning, ready to face a ticked-off Steve Bedrosian. Of course.
I can still remember him glaring down at me from the mound, his glove on his thigh and the ball behind his back. He looked meaner than a South Philly alley cat that ain't eatin' in two weeks. I did think that he could have easily plunked me in the butt or in the back, or worse yet, up around the head. But after meeting him the previous evening, I quickly discounted that because I found him to be a really good guy. Besides, if I had any chance of getting my bat on the ball, I had to clear the fear factor out of my mind.
The first pitch he threw me was a strike. I saw a glimpse of white and the thud of the catchers mitt behind me and the umpire yelling, "Srikeeeeee." I just stood there. I couldn't believe how fast he was. He'd make Tony Russo look like a T-ball pitcher. I had never seen anything that fast in my life. It took Dave Greer's slow-pitched softball about three seconds to come down across the place from an arch. Bedrosian's fastball had to be less than a second.
He was all business. He got the ball back and glared in. I stepped out and he made an impatient face. I could hear my dugout giving me verbal support: "Come on Costy, hang in there. Come on Costy get some wood on it."
I got back into the batter's box and dug my spikes into the soft dirt. He came in with his second pitch and that too was a strike. I stepped out and looked out over the beautiful field and at the pros at their different positions and I thought how lucky I was to even be there. It was a gorgeous day; clear blue sky, afternoon temperature in the low eighties. Indeed, global warming had not yet arrived.
I took a deep breath and got back in. His next two pitches were balls. Not that he was pitching around me or trying to get me to chase something. He could care less. I think he may have overthrown both pitches out of sheer anger and determination. What ever, the count was 2-2. After adjusting my batting gloves and toeing the dirt and trying to just look like a ball player, I got set. I told myself I was swinging on the next pitch. I didn't think he would throw another ball. I knew he'd be coming in hard with his best fastball to blow me away. And I was ready.
I had to start my swing as his arm was coming around from the top of his wind-up. I told myself to concentrate on the foot-tap and try to bring my bat around in the vicinity of when and where I figured the ball would be. As he started his wind-up, I lifted my front foot up off the ground and raised my hands up behind my head and I started my swing as his arm came around in front of him.
And then I swung, getting the fat part of the bat on the ball. It felt good, but I wasn't sure where the ball went as I started to first. I could see John Kruck moving in between the pitchers mound and first base, calling Bedrock off. By the time I got half way down the line, Kruck caught the ball. I popped out to first. As I turned and started back toward the dugout, Bedrock, with a slight smile on his face, pointed at me; his way of saying 'way to go.'
In the locker room after the game, Bedrock swatted me with a towel and said, "Costy, way to go...you..."
I asked him how hard he was throwing and he said low to mid eighties. "You got lucky, Costy," he told me. "Don't quit your other job."
Now I ask you. The most difficult act in all of sports? I think not. After not playing ball for maybe ten, fifteen years, I get off a plane, don a uni, step in against Steve Bedrosian, and I get wood on the ball. And he's is right, I was lucky. But then there would be no way I could get off the plane, don a uni, and run a marathon, even though I still run today. I'm older now but still running against the wind.
Next time, Bedrock, make sure you know where the damn ball is before you step off first base.
(Anyone who reads this and can forward it to Ken Silver, Clint Hurdle, or Steve Bedrosian, please do so.)