Last night I put a baseball uniform back on. After (last year) going an entire summer without playing organized baseball for the first time since, like, 1986, I was back on the diamond for the Renner Monarchs’ season opener. We played the Harrisburg Woodies in Harrisburg.
Just getting to the game in uniform proved to be difficult. Manager Kevin Knetsch had told me beforehand that my No. 22 jersey hadn’t come in yet, so I just wore a green-sleeved baseball shirt. The Monarchs wear white pants with their green jerseys, and I knew I owned a pair of white baseball pants, as well as green baseball socks, so I didn’t worry too much about digging them up until it was time.
I had gone to Rookies for a late lunch (long story) yesterday and came home to take a nap before the game. I awoke at 6, giving me just enough time to grab my stuff and go. But I couldn’t find my white pants. I found literally eight pairs of gray pants (I used to manage amateur teams that wore gray pants), but the white pants — which I KNOW I have somewhere — were nowhere to be found. Neither were the green socks.
So…great. My first game with a new team — a team that has won seven state championships since 2001 — and I have no jersey, no hat, no socks and the wrong colored pants.
Fortunately when I got to the game (after a stop at a Harrisburg gas station that didn’t have regular sunflower seeds, only flavored ones, seriously, what is the deal with the flavored sunflower seeds, people?) Knetsch had brought a few old jerseys for the new guys that didn’t have one yet. He had hats, too, but my head is enormous, and the biggest he had was a 7 1/2. I wear a 7 3/4. As I write this, I’m wearing a cap that I can’t really pull down over my forehead.
Juan Thomas feels my pain. The 41-year-old former Canary who hit 291 career homers in the minor leagues, couldn’t fit into any of the jerseys we had, so he went to a printing shop and had them put ‘35’ on the back of a T-shirt and ‘Renner’ on the front. But he had to go with white, because they didn’t have any green T-shirts that were big enough.
But Juan rocked the white T confidently, so I didn’t worry about my pants or socks (nobody said anything about my gray pants, but a couple guys commented on my lack of colored hosiery).
I arrived at the park at roughly the same time as Matt Wilber, the longtime Dell Rapids Mudcat standout and former USF and SDSU basketball assistant, and since we’re both new, we latched onto each other to warm up, even after he was informed he would be the game’s starting pitcher.
We started throwing, and within minutes, everything was back to normal. It was like I had never taken a year off. The pregame routine was still familiar. My arm felt good. I enjoyed the feel and sound of the ball popping in my glove. I was 18 again.
I knew I wasn’t going to be in the starting lineup, but I looked forward to taking infield. When we did I went to third base, and that’s when the year off hit me. I didn’t quite remember how to execute ‘one-and-cover’, and got confused on who was supposed to take a throw from the outfield, nearly getting Eric DeJong, our starting third baseman, maimed.
When it was time to field a grounder, I bobbled the first one that came my way. Then, after chasing after it and picking it up, I one-hopped the throw past Knetsch, our first baseman and manager. Ugh.
I fielded the next one cleanly, and when I threw to first I thought, ‘that felt good, nice throw’. But it was another one-hopper. At this point I wondered if I should’ve stayed retired.
As the game got going, though, I watched and realized that while most of the guys out there were better than me (certainly all of the guys on our team), this is a game I’ve played for a long time, and used to be kinda good at. I told myself that I needed to remember that. Yeah, I’m on a team with a bunch of former college studs, but there was a time when I used to take pride in competing against and holding my own with those kinda guys. I might not be able to so much anymore, but dammit, I might as well tell myself I can.
On the strength of a 7-run 2nd inning we took a big lead, and I realized I would probably get into the game eventually. I actually got pretty pumped. I tried to remember the swagger I used to take with me to the plate when I was 16, more than half my life ago (good God).
I told myself that when I got to the plate, a laser show would ensue.
I came up in the 7th, with us leading 13-3. David Borchardt, maybe the best player on this year’s Augustana team, had just struck out.
I tried so hard to be relaxed and confident but damn I was nervous. It had been almost two years since I’d stepped in the box. I tried hard to empty my thoughts, but like Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters, I couldn’t.
‘Take til you get a strike’
‘Keep your hands back’
‘He wouldn’t throw a first pitch breaking ball, would he?’
‘Just don’t strike out’
All those thoughts ran through my mind. When the first two pitches both missed badly, giving me a 2-0 count, I got some of the swagger back.
‘OK, meat. Lets see it.’
I was geared up for a cock shot (that phrase is not as inappropriate as it sounds), but the pitcher either threw a change-up or a really slow ‘get-me-over’ fastball. Lacking confidence in my own bat-speed, I lunged forward. I was caught out on my front foot. But I had kept my hands back, and managed to throw them at a truly meaty, begging-to-be-crushed pitch.
And flied out lazily to shallow left field.
On one hand I was upset because I knew that in a 2-0 count against an average pitcher I should get a hit, but on the other, it was my first AB in two years and I made fairly solid contact.
I went out to third base for the bottom of the inning and didn’t have to field anything, as Augie right-hander Sam Gotham basically blew away the three guys he faced (thank God, I was wearing my cup in my compression shorts instead of a jock and that’s a mistake I’ll never make again).
It was a 13-3 win. Not bad for having almost no practices.
But for me, the most important thing was realizing that coming back out to play again was the right decision. I only played one inning and I had a blast.
It’s gonna be a fun summer.