Monday, September 6, 2010

A Baseball Player Looks at 60

I’ve been thinking about this since before my birthday a few weeks ago. And, now someone’s gone out and done it.

Seems like former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee won a baseball game a week or so ago pitching for the Brockton Rox an independent minor league baseball team in Massachusetts. Lee went 5 1/3 innings in picking up the win.

Thing is, he’s 63 years old. And the lefthander, known throughout his major league career as the Spaceman, can still bring it.

I quit playing over 40 baseball in about 1996. Even then at age 45 I could still put on the gear and catch for about 5 innings. I remember my very last at bat which is what prompted me to “hang ‘em up”. I had adjusted my batting stance to be one which old guys like me will liken to the stance used by Phil Linz who played short for the Yankees back in the mid-60’s. It was an extremely open stance but it let me bring my hands through faster and keep my head more level so that I didn’t have to wear my bifocals while trying to hit.

Anyway, the pitch came in, I stepped into it and rapped a grounder up the middle. “Self,” I said to myself, “if you get on your horse and boogie, you can leg this one out.” (By the way, I distinctly remember telling myself that as soon as I saw the ball bounding past the pitcher).

So I let go of the bat and pushed hard out of the box. The first step I felt a burn in my right quadriceps muscle as the muscle tore. The second step I felt a burn in my left quadriceps as that muscle tore. By the time I was halfway down the first baseline, I was running like someone in a potato sack race except without the potato sack. It’s a 90 foot baseline. I was out by 20 feet. I hobbled to the dugout, took myself out of the game, gathered my gear and went home for a long, hot bath.

For the next several weeks I had to wear compression shorts 24/7 as my legs healed. My office was up 2 flights of stairs and it took me 5 minutes to climb them. I was “officially” retired from playing ball. I would get twinges in my quads every time I would break into a jog for the next 6 months.

So, what do I want to do? This idea has been percolating for almost a month now. Next August is my 60th birthday. I want to play baseball. Not a game. I want to go out and throw. Warm-up like I used to. I want to take a good session of batting practice. I want to take infield practice. I want to catch for a few batters. And maybe even throw a bit of BP too.

Then I want to go home, take a long hot shower, look at my grey hair and beard and smile. Smile because I got to play ball like an exuberant 15 year old again. Just once. Just one last time.

That’s all. Because like Bill Lee just proved—60 ain’t that old. And like Satchel Paige always said, “It’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind. It don’t matter.”

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