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Nostalgia, 1992: The Day I Went 1-1 On The Mound

It was another 90 degree summer day in the Northwest League, where outside of Miles Field the city of Medford, OR smelled like burning asphalt. But once you made the trek across the parking lot -- a lot so dusty and full of potholes you may as well have been driving across the surface of the moon -- and entered the stadium, you saw bases, you smelled freshly cut grass, you heard bat on ball -- it was baseball. In that way, single-A baseball and major league baseball are strikingly similar.

Rick Rodriguez (right) has no idea how much it meant for me to have one day as a "professional pitcher".
Rick Rodriguez (right) has no idea how much it meant for me to have one day as a "professional pitcher".
Christian Petersen

However, at the big league level batting practice is rarely canceled in favor of a special hitting competition between the starting pitchers and the relief pitchers. On one of my more memorable days amongst the 4 years I spent broadcasting Southern Oregon A's baseball, pitching coach Rick Rodriguez got the idea that the pitchers should get a chance to hit and decided he would put together a 4 inning game of starting pitchers vs. relief pitchers. In lieu of an actual defense, he would decide what outcome each batted ball should be assigned.

I offered to pitch against both teams. Was I a pitcher earlier in my "career"? Well, yes and no. I never really made it past Little League due to the fact that my fastball topped out around 48MPH (on a fast Jugs gun). I was pretty successful in Little League, though, because I was a LHP with a truly deceptive changeup and the ability to throw the ball pretty much where I wanted. You might be getting a sense of why I gravitate to pitchers like Tommy Milone.

To his credit, or blame, Rodriguez -- "Ricky Rod" as he was known -- took me up on my offer. I had a fighting chance because the pitching was going to be done "batting practice style" with a screen set up on the grass in front of the mound. By throwing from the front slope of the mound, I picked up several MPH on my "fast"ball and while no one took a reading I have to think I threw a few pitches that day which hit 50MPH.

Although the set-up was "BP style" I did not throw batting practice. I tried to get hitters (and by hitters I mean pitchers masquerading as hitters) out. Once on a mound, or a court, I am very competitive and I approached the game like it was my one opportunity to be scouted by anyone who might be looking for a broadcaster who threw in the high 40s but "knew how to pitch".

I wish the 1992 Southern Oregon A's had been blessed with 2 future Hall Of Fame pitchers, 1 future All-Star, and 3 other future big-leaguers, but in reality I competed that day against guys you've probably never heard of. However, they were guys with a bat, standing in the batter's box, and it was my job to get them out. I was 25 years old at the time so I was pitching on roughly 13-years rest. I had my good changeup working that day.

Fastball, outside corner strike one.
Changeup, just off the corner, fouled back.
Changeup, a couple inches farther outside, taken for ball one.
Changeup, outside corner, reached for and popped foul.

Fastball inside corner, batter frozen.

"Strike 3!" bellows Rick Rodriguez, who is also serving as the umpire. Rick grins at me, "You're working it!" True, I may not be a good pitcher but I'm a "pitcher" and not a "thrower". I don't answer him, though, because there is another batter standing in the box and I am remembering what sequence I used in his last at-bat and how I want to get him out this time.

There is no peace for the wicked. As soon as the top of the 1st ends, the bottom of the 1st begins with me on the mound. I am in the process of throwing 2 complete games, adding and subtracting, moving the ball in and out, and pulling the string to produce 100 different shades of slop. Ultimately I am pretty much getting by on the belief that if someone gives me a ball and you a bat, I can find a way to get you out. Usually, I turn out to be right, and sometimes I turn out to be wrong -- as the game progresses, a lot of balls are popped up off of the front foot, a few balls are peppered into the gaps, a few batters are caught looking for one pitch in one location and getting something else.

Some of these batters are pitchers who were very good hitters in high school or college. Others have no business holding a bat. Heck, it's single-A ball: some of them probably have no business throwing a pitch, either. The game goes tied into the bottom of the 4th.

In my 8th consecutive inning without a break, I'm getting tired. My fastball is probably only 42MPH at this point, or perhaps it is losing movement -- if it ever had any to begin with. Lefty pitcher -- and lefty hitter -- Jason Rajotte, picks on a weary fastball and launches it into the RF seats. I may be the only pitcher in Northwest League history ever to give up a walk-off HR and walk off as the winning pitcher.

Of course I had a broadcast to do that day and in the broadcast booth they have microphones, not ice. Strangely, it just never occurred to me to ice my arm. Perhaps even more strangely, it didn't occur to anyone on the A's to suggest it to me. I was fine, though, and as I did 76 times in 80 days that summer I broadcast the game, went out to dinner, went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, I could not lift my left arm. At all. I actually could not lift it for about 3 days. Apparently, you're not supposed to pick up a baseball after 13 years, throw 8 innings back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back and then not ice your arm. Not to be able to lift your arm, for days? It was painful, it was scary, it was ... It was totally worth it.