I toed the rubber. My cleats caught on the edge. I twisted until my shoe came free. I took that as I sign that it was time to switch to my short delivery. That day, as on many, I couldn’t coordinate my arms and legs when I took a full stride and extended my arm. The ball had been veering high, then wide. I’d walked four batters by the third inning and still showed no sign of getting all four limbs in sync. The short stride lowered my speed but gave me control.
I wound up and threw. The ball headed toward the batter’s lead elbow then squirted sideways catching the inside of the plate. The umpire called a strike. The batter had been crowding the plate. He inched away when he dug in for the next pitch. I threw over the middle of the plate. He leaned in to smack it. At the last second, the ball slid away from him. The bat missed the ball by an inch. The batter shook his head in frustration. He dug in close to the plate. His front foot danced in anticipation. The bat twitched. I threw a change up.
I struck out the next batter too. The third hit a pop up to second. I got out of the inning without giving up a walk or a run. And I hadn’t done anything but snap my wrist on delivery while holding the ball with my fingers following the seams. My coach told me to stick with the short delivery. The opposing coach had a chat with umpire while his team took the field to warm up. I heard him say, “That kid’s throwing a curve!” The umpire shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t care.
Seventh grade kids were discouraged from throwing breaking pitches. The strain of twisting an adolescent elbow could blow out an arm before a kid reached high school. But the opposing coach’s tone suggested that he was less worried about my arm and more concerned that his batters had suddenly looked uncertain.
I made it through the next inning with a bit of trouble. A kid misjudged a pitch and squibbed a dribbler back to me. The field was strewn with rocks. Sliding hard into a base could tear up a shin if the runner was unlucky. The ground ball hit a rock just as it reached my glove and bounded sideways. I fumbled after it, but my throw reached first base late. When I returned to the bench, I joked that I hadn’t made an error yet. Brian jeered and said, “What about that ball you just booted?” “It hit a rock!” I said. Brian turned to Mark and said, “He says it hit a rock!”
I got a drink from the cooler and stood by the fence behind our bench to catch a breeze. Tim and Randy came up to me. They crowded close and gave me big grins. They usually addressed me with “Hey, pizza face!” So, I suspected bad intentions. Tim said, “Hey, you’re pitching a great game.” He smiled to let me know that he was my biggest fan, but the tone sounded oily. Tim said, “Randy accidentally tossed his glove into the weeds over there beyond the fence. We were joking around, and he fumbled it. Would you be good guy and hop the fence and get the glove?” Randy looked away from me, but I caught a smirk twisting his mouth.
I had left my glove on the bench. Tim kept sliding his eyes toward it. I knew that it would be gone if I was “a good guy”. I turned to Randy and said, “It’s your glove. Go get it.” Tim suggested that I could be a real asshole sometimes. I agreed.
We lost the game 4-2. I pitched four scoreless innings to finish the game, but our batters couldn’t catch up to the opposing pitcher’s fastball. I struck out the last batter and headed toward home plate. I said to the ump, “Thanks for giving me some calls.” Some umpires automatically called balls when they saw breaking pitches. He said, “You pitched a great game.”
I thought that I’d gotten lucky. My pitches normally didn’t move around that much. But I didn’t disagree with him.