Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Originally, I thought the story had to be some kind of fable. No way it could have actually happened.
It went a little something like this.
My dad's Little League team was preparing for a significant game late in the season. He was the ace of the team's pitching staff, and would be counted on to take the hill and shut down the opposition's powerful offense.
But a bizarre occurrence happened at school that week. My dad was a gym aide for one of the classes. Everybody was outside practicing various track and field events. The teacher needed a volunteer to display proper high jumping technique, and apparently that was something my dad did well.
He sped down the track, readied himself at the last moment, leaped in the air, and cleared the bar by at least two feet. But the landing was not exactly an artistic one. He came down hard and awkwardly, fracturing the radius bone in his left wrist. All of a sudden, his availability for the monumental baseball game was in serious jeopardy. But maybe not...
"I don't really need my left hand to throw the ball," my dad thought. "After all, pitching is really a one-handed activity." Could he be serious? Was he really planning on still pitching in the game despite having a hard plaster cast attached to one of his arms? He sure was, and he had other ideas, as well.
Without a functioning left hand, my dad knew he needed to figure out a way to get the ball back from the catcher following each pitch. The umpire would most definitely not allow the catcher to trot out to the mound after every toss; the game would last six hours. Maybe the catcher could just float the ball back, and my dad would snag it with his unbroken, but bare right hand. Nah, all that would do is potentially injure the other wrist.
Finally, they had a solution.
After each pitch, the catcher would sling the ball out to the shortstop. He would then take a few steps over to my dad, and hand-deliver the ball. Then his prized right arm would fire that pill towards the trembling batter, and the process would repeat. Poetry in motion.
The story always ended the same way. With my dad going the distance, stifling the other squad's attack, and leading his boys to a life-changing victory.
I always took the whole thing with a grain of salt. I mean, come on. The high jumping exhibition?? The giant cast extending out past the elbow? The ball being dropped off to him after every pitch like a room service breakfast at a 5-star hotel? This had to be some kind of urban legend, I thought.
Then I saw the picture.
Right there, clear as day, was my dad out on the pebbled infield, his dirt-stained white and yellow jersey hanging off his paper-thin 11-year-old frame; and enveloping the entire lower portion of his left arm was a cast. It was all true.
Makes Curt Schilling's bloody sock seem like a mechiah.
To this day, it remains quite possibly the single greatest pitching performance, pro or amateur, in our game's long and storied history.
And he only needed one arm to do it.
Happy Birthday wishes go out today to Doc High Socks, the best one-handed pitching internist in the Metro Detroit area. Drop a b'day word for the Little League legend here, or shoot me an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org