At the time, I felt extremely disappointed; breaking in my heart. Now, I have a better perspective about it all and can clearly see the insanity in how I expected to perform in the beginning. I mean, really, those first four outings were my 3rd-6th since coming back from my elbow injury. I had one on May 1st (before I hurt my shoulder), another at the end of July, and I really thought I’d jump right into my pre-injury form as soon as I got to Melbourne? Ridiculous. Combine my recent return to full health with the better than NCAA D3 competition I was facing in Melbourne, and I should have been happy with how I was pitching. My teammates and the club coaches were patient with me. They wanted me to keep pitching and even planned to have me start a game on the mound for our reserve team in order to get more innings under my belt.
It was going to be my first start since April 1st, 2015. I was excited for that day, November 6th , 2016. Things would finally go my way. I’d feel like I used to on the mound. A free arm. Everything in sync. Smooth. Loose. Nope. While coaching the U16 team for Williamstown that morning, I got hit in the face by a batted baseball during warmups. All my fault too. I left myself exposed, outside of the L-screen. When it happened, I immediately dropped to the ground, worst-case scenario thoughts rushed through my head like, ‘I’m done, My eye is destroyed and I’m going to have to head back to the states.’ In another stroke of things not being nearly as bad as they could be, I came out of my collision with the ball without a concussion, stitches, broken bones, and my glasses almost completely intact. The ball literally hit me in the perfect spot in order to avoid more critical damage like eyesight loss, a broken nose, or a serious concussion. The frames of my glasses cut into the skin below my eye a bit, but that was it! I even got let out of the emergency room to make it back in time to see the last couple of innings of the U16 game. The boys were relieved to see me in good spirits. However, I took myself out of pitching later that afternoon for the reserves in order to avoid further injury on the day. My return to form would have to wait at least another week.
*An aside: in the emergency room the doctor told me that if I was a model I should consult a plastic surgeon about the scar I was going to be stuck with. I was like, ‘are you f***ing kidding me?’ All I wanted was to be okay to play baseball again. Sooner rather than later. A new cosmetic “imperfection” was so insignificant, it was multiple dimensions away from my universe. LOL. That doctor though.
In the following weeks, I experienced brief moments of rapture on the mound. The very first time was on Tuesday, November 8th , when I got a live bullpen on video. My mechanics felt smoother. It was a big step in the right direction. It still wasn’t how it used to feel, yet relative to how I was throwing, it was an entirely new reality. The next training, it was gone again. That weekend, I threw two laborious, yet scoreless, innings. Another good result run-wise, but my four walks were a warning sign. My movements still felt clunky. A week later, on November 19th, I experienced the most frustrating outing of my life.
Everything was perfect. I coached the U16 team to their first victory in the morning. I went 4 for 4 in a breakout game at the plate for our 2s side. Then our 1s side coasted out to a big lead against the worst team in the league. All signs pointed to this being the day I finally would feel like my old self on the mound. I came in and everything quickly crumbled to pieces. I walked the first two batters on eight pitches. None of them close to the strike zone. Then a 3rd walk, on five pitches. Then I actually got the next batter to a 2-2 count. Bang. Bases clearing double pulled down the left field line. The next batters walks on 5 pitches. I leave the game. I’m in shock. That’s the only way I can describe it now. I walked off the field and sat down the bench, the silence weighing down on me with the pressure of a million black holes. You could feel this eery graveyard vibe over the entire field, or maybe it was only how I felt. All the fans, all the players, everyone, was like, wtf just happened. This guy had a massive meltdown. No one likes seeing that. It was too much for me. My heart was crushed to smithereens. I felt like crying, but I held everything in.
After a couple of minutes (which actually felt like eons), our assistant coach motioned for me to follow him down to the bullpen and he had me throw some more pitches. I don’t quite know what his intentions were. Maybe to get me to not have my last memory of pitching that day be the shit show of those five batters. In the bullpen, I did more of what I did on the field. It was like I had forgotten to throw a ball all over again. Where was what I learned at the Texas Baseball Ranch? Where was anything? I felt like dying. All because of 20 minutes of sucky-ness. A small fraction of my waking hours. The rest of the day was incredibly wonderful, with gorgeous weather, a U16 win, perfect hitting, delicious food, and compassionate teammates. Yet, what matters most to me, the mound, was a different universe that day. Hell on it. Heaven off of it.
Pitching-wise, things looked about as bleak as the day I hurt my elbow. I didn’t know what to do. It was a long evening. I cried a lot. Maybe I should let go. Maybe I should quit. Maybe I’ve been pushing too hard, wanting it too much. Maybe I should double down on the process. Commit. Go all in. Trust the plan. Let go of results. So that’s what I did. I made a promise to myself. From the heart. And I went to work. Who knows how long it would take, but I made a pact with myself that I would keep getting after it until I rediscovered my latent pitching ability.
The next weekend, we had another game, and I got brought in out of necessity (there’s no other reason I would have been brought in). Our starting pitcher hit a wall, exhausted, walked multiple batters in a row, and we were short on players due to the game being far away from civilization (welcome to Ballarat). My name was called and I came in with the bases loaded. 11 pitches. 8 balls. 2 walks. Yet, it was a turning point. I had the same feeling as during the live bullpen. My movements were more in sync. The ball was flying out of my hand like the old days. All but one of the balls were only a few inches away from being strikes. It gave me hope. Maybe I was going to find a way!
Over the next couple of weeks, I pitched three more times. Two starts for the 2s side and a relief appearance on the 1s. Steps in the right direction, but still poor performance. Too many walks. Too little stuff. Fleeting glimpses of the other side. Of the pitcher I knew I could be. Fortunately, December 18th marked the beginning of our holiday break and we wouldn’t play any games for five weeks. I would have time to do my own workouts and figure out my pitching mess. Perhaps 2017 would be a better year for pitching than 2016 had been. I went back to my promise, from the heart, and trusted my process.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Pitching -> 10 IP, 12 ER, 8 H, 7 K, 22 BB, 1 HBP, 10.80 ERA, 3.10 WHIP
Hitting -> 8 for 18, 1 2B, 6 R, 1 RBI, 3 SB, 2 K, 1 BB, .444 BA, .474 OBP, .500 SLG, .974 OPS
A WHIP of 3.10 and an OPS of .974. Mixed-results. To be continued 🙂