I am double-jointed, especially in my right hand, so much so, that I can bend my thin fingers into pretzel shapes and make a quite impressive dinosaur. As a kid, I was certain this trait was my ticket to the Major League Baseball. I didn’t need to work out or practice or even play on highly competitive teams. All I needed was to be discovered.
I was certain that with the backspin created by my fingers I could throw a rising-drop pitch, and once during practice at Beechmont Baseball in Louisville’s South End, I sort of proved it. Yes, I once threw a pitch that started to drop and then unexpectedly rose, which, I was sure, could be quite a commodity if I could throw any faster than, say, 45 miles an hour.
I had wrongfully learned that Hall of Famer Tom Seaver was discovered playing in his parents’ backyard in California and that John Candelaria of the Pittsburgh Pirates was first spotted playing stickball with a taped-up tennis ball in his Brooklyn neighborhood.
Scouts, such as the Cincinnati Reds’ Gordy Coleman, were, I believed, out scouring ball fields and backyards across America, and it was only a matter of time that he’d find me and sign me to a multi-thousand-dollar deal.
You can guess how this all worked out.
Years later, as a sportswriter, I had the honor of meeting Coleman during a Reds Caravan media trip. It was obvious from our brief conversation that my double-jointed rising-drop pitch had never even been on the Big Red Machine’s radar.
But last year, my dreams all came rushing back. As part of Kentucky Monthly Night with the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, I was offered a chance to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Louisville Slugger Field. This, I knew, was my big chance and I was going to, even at 49, grab the attention of the scouts and be on my way. Why not? I thought. The Atlanta Braves’ Phil Niekro, a knuckleball pitcher, about whom it was once said “Hitting Niekro’s knuckleball is like eating soup with a fork,” played until he was nearly my age. And my body, being that I hadn’t played all those years, is nearly free from wear and tear.
When, however, my big chance came, I was joined on the pitcher’s mound by five local beauty queens and an 11-year-old Little League All-Star. Well, with all that beauty, and the 11-year-old’s 80-mile-an-hour fastball, my magic pitch never got the attention it deserved and being that my pitch dropped and failed to rise wasn’t all that good either. (Click here for the full story.)
“I wouldn’t say you choked out there,” said Fryrear, a friend since elementary school, “but that’s probably because you gave me my ticket.”
Tuesday night, however, I’m going to get another chance as the Bats have offered me a shot at redemption. Sometime around 7 o’clock I’ll draw back and unleash my second ceremonial first pitch. I’ll be happy if it leads to a Major League contract, but I’ll be content if it just hits the catcher’s mitt this time around.