My right elbow and shoulder ache when it rains, and I blame it all on baseball. In the beginning of my abortive sports career, I pitched Little League in our small hometown. A local newspaper once wrote of me, “He can strike out any Little Leaguer in the country.” Hmmm. While it is true I had a lot of heat on my fast-ball, it is well to bear in mind that because ink sticks to paper does not confirm a statement as fact. This was not sworn testimony, and the author had papers to sell.
Here’s the thing. Although I could pitch a pretty impressive fast-ball, I really wanted to throw a curve-ball. Now, for those of you not old enough to remember, when the first fella claimed to have thrown a ball that changed directions – seemed to come right at you, then land in the strike zone – the claim was scoffed. There were cameras and commentators by the score watching to see if the pitched ball truly ‘curved.’ The trick of it, I read, was to grasp the seams of the ball, torque your fingers a certain way, and let fly.
Dad had helped me set up a combination of a burlap backing and an old automobile tire as a pitching target, and I spent hours in that barn trying to make the ball curve. Never could. One day, during a game, I was ahead of the batter. I had blown two fast-balls by him. Count 0-2. I decided to try my first public curve-ball. It bounced twice on the ground before it reached the catcher. But the batter, told to ‘swing at anything’, did just that, missed, and struck out. I smiled happily at Dad and twisted my wrist to communicate I had thrown a curve. Why he rolled his eyes was explained to me on the ride home rather more loudly than I felt the occasion deserved. This gist of it was that pitching a baseball is not the same as skipping stones on the creek. You win no prizes for the number of bounces.
However, my fast-ball was of such velocity that my developing joints began to ache; thus trips to the Orthopedist, cortisone joint shots, back to the mound.
Fast forward to high-school baseball. Still faster than the other pitchers, my shoulder would start to ache after a few innings. One day during practice, I decided to throw side-arm to relieve the pain. I unconsciously ‘torqued’ my grip. Jerry, my buddy and catcher yelled, “Whoa!” and jumped to his left to catch a wild pitch only to see it curve over the plate.
“What the @#^!&* was that?!”
“A curve ball?”
“Try it again.”
Again I threw, again he jumped, again a strike.
“Okay. This time I sit tight no matter what.”
The next ball flew precisely at the batter’s box and curved perfectly into his mitt.
Oh those next few months made up for all the practice, all the joint pain! Batters would dive out of the box to avoid being decapitated, and the ball would land dead-on in Jerry’s mitt. If strike-outs were gold, I would have been one rich kid.
But all dreams endeth. One day, a member of the opposing team watched me with more attentiveness than was seemly and whispered urgently to his coach. The coach put this fellow out as third base coach. He started to predict – accurately – whether I was going to throw a fast-ball or curve. If he yelled, “Curve!” the batter, though intimidated by a missile heading straight for his ribs, would hold fast. That young man had noticed that my side-arm pitch always meant a curve. [It was the only way I could throw it.] My fast-ball came straight down. Of that young man years ago, I can only hope he caught diabetes from a close friend shortly after graduation.
The years have passed and now the only real throwing I do is with the dogs out in the yard. I throw side-armed of course, but they can’t seem to tell . . .By Lucky Garvin [email protected]