The first pitch at this fall league game at the 3&2 baseball complex off of Bannister Road in Kansas City fell around 8:30 p.m. I was probably a freshman or sophomore in high school. This was not a regular season high school game, it was a less-competitive league I played in during the fall. Fall Ball was a lot of fun.
At this point in my weird run as a baseball player, I began having some arm soreness in both my right elbow and my right shoulder. I attribute it to learning a big curveball way before my arm had fully matured, and a decent fastball without lifting weights in school. My arm hurt so bad in practice warm-up throwing, that once I actually had to tell my high school coach that I couldn’t do it, and I had to go sit on the bench while everyone else was getting their reps in along the leftfield grass. For probably my entire senior year, I had to practically dip my entire arm into a bucket of “icy hot” to numb the pain before long-toss throwing sessions.
At this fall league game, my arm wasn’t feeling great, whatsoever. The coach stuck me out in left-field, instead of 3rd base which was my secondary position. I guess he was hoping that no one would hit a ball my way for an inning or two before the game was over.
Just before the inning started in which I was playing left, I remember playing long-distance catch with the centerfielder, while the pitcher, catcher and infielders were doing their own standard warm-ups. I was throwing lollipops. “Lollipop”, in the baseball world, refers to a very weak throw with a lot of air under it. You can’t get away with throwing that way on the left side of the infield, which I guess now makes sense as to why I would’ve gone to the outfield. You can get away with more air under your throw from a longer distance.
It must have been the first or second batter of the inning. There was no one on base, I know that much.
Under the shiny, dew-soaked grass lit up by the ballpark lights, a hitter for the opposing team ripped a line drive right into my responsibility. At this point, it was a base hit, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the first base coach for the other team was watching my warm-up throws in the outfield, before the inning officially started. The first base coach sent the runner to 2nd base, who was gunning down the first base line at that moment.
I caught it on one or two hops, and got the verbal sign from someone closer to the dirt infield, letting me know the runner was trying to stretch the hit into a double. Whoever my teammate or coach was that yelled “TWO!” I appreciate to this day, for it resulted in one of the more ironic moments in my ball-playing tenure.
By the time I got word that the throw had to go to second base, I don’t think it took long for me to dip down and then rear backwards into a crow-hop (a common outfield throwing technique that requires some rather fancy footwork to get your body moving forward, into a throw). But my arm just wasn’t physically allowed to throw anything resembling a bullet on this night under the lights.
It took just about every ounce of my remaining arm strength to get the throw to second. I launched out of my crow-hop and served up the weakest throw from left-field that no one on that field had seen since they were probably playing machine pitch. The throw probably had more of an arching, scud-missile trajectory, or even similar to that of a rainbow, than that of a sharp laser back into the infield. My arm was killing me, and it must have been obvious to the first base coach before the ball was hit my way. I believe that’s why he sent the runner on to 2nd.
In retrospect, my throw must’ve hung in the air for an eternity. It might have had a chance at scraping the Goodyear Blimp, if there was one hovering over the field. What happened between the time the throw hung in the air and the time it landed in the 2nd baseman’s glove was pure chance, magic, luck, all of that I’d like to think.
When it finally landed, it was a perfect strike just a few inches above the 2nd base bag. The 2nd baseman who caught it, put the tag down to retire the runner with ease, just as the runner was sliding feet first. What’s funny about this play is that the runner may have seen the entire play unfold, perhaps better than anyone on the field.
It was a lollipop throw, but it was a strike, and my most memorable experience playing in the outfield, by far.