I don’t know who was more nervous, my son or me when I heard the news that he would be pitching in the second inning of his baseball game. We barely had time to work on pitching both in practice and on our own in the backyard.
We had gone out to the ball field now and then to work on some drills but never had we spent the time needed to be ready to pitch in a real game. And he would be facing the added difficulty of throwing off a mound the middle of the infield.
To be fair, none of the kids before this season had even stepped foot on a mound to pitch in a game before. But yet there he was someone who never pitched an inning except for the pretend game situation that we had come up within the backyard on occasion.
In a moment that seemed to come straight out of Rookie of the Year (I’d argue an iconic baseball movie of the 90s) I stood there in the dugout watching him as he walked towards the mound with the ball and the mound almost seeming to taunt him. I could hear the roar of the crowd chanting “William… William.” Or maybe that was in my head.
Snapping back to reality, I grabbed the catcher’s glove to warm him up. He walked to the mound, looking around at the crowd, albeit not at Wrigley or chanting his name as stood on the pitching rubber took his stance and made his first practice pitch.
It was a high arching outside pitch. I let it go thinking maybe it was nerves flowing through my son’s veins. I had to put away all of my fatherly and coaching advice as he warmed up knowing that he wasn’t ready for this, but yet there he was ready to do the job he had been assigned.
Walking back to the dugout as the inning was getting ready to start the questions started to go through my head. Would he get his first strikeout? Would he give up a home run? Would he hit someone in the back and then decide to give it all up?
“Well, this should be interesting,” I said as I walked by coach on my way to the dugout.
“We know he can throw, he has a REALLY good arm we just need to harness the power.” He said
Flashes of Rick Vaughn from Major League went through my head.
The first pitch that he threw, a high looping strike, much like what he was throwing in practice but it was a strike none-the-less. Followed by 4 straight balls, walking the batter.
Followed by 2 more walks loading the bases. The next batter takes a hack at the first pitch hitting a ground ball right towards the mound. He runs off the mound fields the ball cleanly and overthrows first base scoring two runs.
Next two batters walk.
He wasn’t throwing as he could, I knew that, the coach knew that. I had to go out and talk to him.
“TIME!” I say as I hold my hand up walking out of the dugout.
The team gathers around me as I get on to a knee and tell my son just to throw the ball as hard as he can. Forget the batter is there and just play catch with the catcher as we do in practice.
I walk back into the dugout and coach says, “What did you tell him?”
“To throw the ball as hard as he can, let them hit the ball, we have a defense back there that is second-to-none, and they are all there to help you out.”
I don’t know if the nerves were still running high, but he walked in 4 more runs to hit the 6 runs limit in an inning. But as I sat next to him in the dugout I asked, “what was going on out there?”
“I don’t know I didn’t want to hit the batter. I know I can throw hard and there was a lot of pressure.”
“I understand. Make it up the next time you go up to bat.”
While he did make it up at the plate getting hit in the hand and eventually scoring, he taught me a thing about toughness that night.
There he was, not ready for the situation that he was in what-so-ever, but he stood out there on the mound and gave it his best shot. That is what mattered to me, to coach, and to his team. While thinking back to a difficult time I was having at work going through a transition of job roles, I was also thrown into a situation that I was uncomfortable with, and I did exactly what my son did. My colleagues were counting me on me to keep working and trying to do the best that I could. They could all see that I was struggling, but they were all there behind me, supporting me through the transition.
“Dad, I want to try that again, but this time let’s practice some more.” He would eventually say on our drive home.
That was my Field of Dreams moment, I teared up because not only was he wanting to play catch, but he was telling me not to give up when things get tough.