I had a dream near twenty years ago. In this dream I was casually strolling out to a strange pitcher's mound to close out the National Adult Baseball Association's (NABA) All-Star Game in Oklahoma City. All-the-while subconsciously contemplating the fact that I had not pitched much at all during the regular season. In reality this dream was somewhat exciting but, as it turned from full color to black and white, I seemed to begin losing subconsciousness while attempting to maintain reserved optimism of how this thing may turn out before the alarm clock of life wakes me up.
The ninety-nine degrees of July 4th, 1994, perfectly matched the number on the back of my Oklahoma City Rangers jersey. At the time, it seemed to feel more like a hundred and twenty seven with white line chalk and dry red dirt blowing like it was dust bowl west Oklahoma in 1930.
Gazing down the bench in the dugout, our North All Star coach was pretty much looking at a bunch of middle aged had not beens too hot and too tired to get too excited about the thrill of any potential victory. "Who wants to finish this thing off" was followed by a hot and sweaty silence before my hand was raised with verbal volunteerism. This by a Ranger teammate sitting next to me. "House can pitch," he shared. Oh boy, now I'm thinkin' we're lucky to lead the South by more than a run as my mind had already wandered in the direction of our family gathering with fireworks and something cold to drink a bit later in the evening.
This is where an imaginative baseball dream seemed to turn a bit surreal and weird. About half way to the mound and while wondering how I was going to keep the South from rising again, I hear a magnificent roar of a what sounded like a huge crowd. Wow. Best I could recall before leaving the bullpen, there were only a few girlfriends, wives and kids of players in the stands. As this highly enthusiastic crowd roared wildly during a few warm up tosses, I freakishly hear a voice similar to Bruce Springsteen holla out "the turnpike is closed, nobody goes home." What the heck and hang with me as it does get weirder.
"The Boss" then breaks into his classic "Glory Days" over the loud speakers as my cousin Brian Baker steps up to the plate. Brian and I grew up together playing baseball and football in our back yards of Lookeba, Oklahoma. Mostly we pretended to be in the pros with the St. Louis Cardinals (baseball) and Minnesota Vikings (football) but sometimes we morphed into an OU Sooner just in time to high step our way into the end zone.
Now what's the likelihood of having to face my longtime friend and cousin first up? Maybe it came from memorable thoughts of the many good times we shared together as young pups pretending to be great athletes? Maybe it was the baseball gods getting ready to punish me for not really being prepared for such a situation?
As a hitter, Brian was a beast and had earned the nickname of Home Run Baker from fellow teammates and players within Oklahoma City's NABA realm. He was/is big and fast and could swing a bat with the best of the best in our semi-non-pro league. After begrudgingly setting aside the thoughts of fireworks and cold soda, there was a pitching strategy to be devised. One that hopefully avoids Bake hitting one out on my watch such as he used to in the back yards of our youth.
In a Costner like "For Love Of The Game" contemplation, I began a similar innermental talk-to-yourself process. Fastball? Well it ain't too fast but maybe if I can keep from throwing it anywhere near the plate. Knuckle Ball? I've tried it before but without much success. Change Up? Man it's been awhile since I've done this. Curve Ball? Used to be my money ball pitch but, like golf, it takes a lot of practice and I haven't played golf in years. Grease Ball? Check that off the list as, not knowing I'd be out here, I didn't bother to pack a jar of Vasoline.
If I'm goin' down and something's goin' out, it will have to be against the ole rustic money ball pitch, so, let's get it on. A couple outside and away and then a steady diet of curve balls in an attempt to avoid the wrath of Home Run Baker. A walk would definitely be way better than a run in this situation.
In the lineup after Baker, along came Jones. He was a fast twenty-something kid strutting a bit of his young stuff up to the plate. A psychogenic scouting report from regular season play indicates if he gets on base, he's most likely to score against an older and slower delivery man of caucasian persuasion. He's just that freakin' fast.
Is that my son Derek getting a twenty plus year old drink of stale water?
Well, I think I better rattle his (Jones') cage a bit and set him up for a strategic inside corner changed up sweeping curve ball. Maybe toss a few on the wild side to make him think I'm not really in control and then go for that inside corner strike out. Son of a benchin' blue! Come on! You gotta give me that corner! I painted it like a Rembrandt!
Without a little help from ole blue, Jones is on and I again recall being glad we were up by more than a run when this dream started. Definitely will be irritating if he makes his way around the horn to score. It is an oddity but Jones is so fast the odds are in his favor to steal home if he makes it to third.
Sure enough, Jones made it to third. I was thinkin' SOB but I did not say it out loud. Any pitcher worth a hot summer day's sweaty salt would know, with a guy this fast, just pitch from the stretch and hold the runner close to third. Aint' no way anybody's gonna score that way.
I guess my over heated and lower intellectual level took over as I devised a mental plan to pitch from a normal wind up with confidence I could sucker him into running with preparation to quick pitch the inside corner for an easy see ya later out. Funny how things don't always work out the way an old mind devises such strategy. He scored. SOB and I think I said it out loud just after missing my quick pitch target by an embarassing mile.
Okay, breathe and gather yourself as all is not lost in this potential twilight nightmare. The next two guys up swing a bat pretty much the way I do. Move the ball around a bit, keep it low and stick with some movement. Work to get ahead in the count and stick with some movement. Make em hit my pitch and stick with some movement. A ground out is just as good as a strikeout so stick with some movement. Don't be a hero and stick with some movement.
Baseball is not all that fun to watch but an awesome game to play. Much like the finest of wines and the most beautiful of women, the game can make you feel like a million bucks for a moment and quite like a fool the next. Love Of The Game for us old NABAers meant workin' all day earnin' some pay just so we could suit up and play. Although there was no money to be made, a rewarding level of satisfaction seemed to manifest itself within the prolongation of the good ole "Glory Days."
This particular "dream" I share comes from a favorable moment of final episode, last inning, old school, old man hardball days. Memorable days that were, to me, regrettably vanishing through a closing window of time. A window closing on me but opening up for my son with a time trade made as he was freshly starting a T-ball career. "Hope when I get old I don't sit around talkin' about it. But, I probably will."