I was only 8, so you’d think my dad’s memory of that summer would be better than mine. Listening to him talk about it makes you wonder why I’m not in the Hall of Fame by now.
We were living in Ann Arbor for the summer because my dad had a post-doctorate fellowship at The University of Michigan. My mom was probably going insane trying to entertain me in a strange town where neither of us had friends. It was already half way through the season, but somehow she was able to get a local baseball league to take me on. She also found a nice old woman who smelled of spit and cedar to give me clarinet lessons. Or was it cello? I can’t remember. All the forced instrument playing blends together at some point.
The team was coached by graduate students. Some of them knew how baseball worked, and others just yelled flamboyantly from the bench while grading undergraduate exams. It wasn’t a serious league. Those are usually in big business towns and coached by whoever’s dad is the richest. College towns don’t have serious sports because most of the kids are children of academics with gigantic heads and bad hand-eye coordination.
I was put in at first base. On the fourth batter of the inning, I threw out a runner at third while standing on first. That’s a long accurate throw for a kid, long enough that I started the next inning as pitcher. As my father tells it, I struck out 3 batters on 9 pitches. Nine straight heaters right down the middle. The opposing coach demanded to see my birth certificate. No 8 year old had an arm like that. My coach happened to have it handy (because this is my Dad’s version of the story), and I proceeded to strike out the side in the next inning as well. As the season progressed, I became the most feared pitcher in the whole league.
10 years later, my father’s professor friend stopped me on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University where I went to college. He was drunk and berated me for pursuing higher education when I could have instead been a goddam major league pitcher.
What really happened? Well, I threw the ball pretty hard, and a lot of the time I threw strikes. I struck out some batters on three pitches, but I think I walked a lot more of them on four. I hit the back stop 2 or 3 times each inning because I had trouble keeping my pitches down. There was no controversy surrounding my age, only about my out of state eligibility. When I returned to Ohio, I tried pitching but everyone else was throwing junk already, and batters were hammering my predictable high heat. I moved back to first base within weeks, and a few weeks after that I was ridin’ the pine. My team was coached by the pitcher’s dad who owned the local cement company.
It’s a great feeling to have a dad who’s proud of you. It’s even better to have a dad who’s proud and knows how to embellish a story enough to turn you into a legend. I’m looking forward to my son Silas hitting a 600 ft home run when he’s 9.