Vicariously living through the Red Sox

This upcoming baseball season is going to be the first year I will not play baseball since the time I was old enough to play tee-ball. I injured my back in senior year of high school – the very last game of varsity baseball, when I pitched one inning and walked about 100 people. That’s what you get for drawing an umpire whose idea of a strike is one where it’s pumped down the middle, easy pickings for the hitter. At least the opposing pitcher got roughed up, too. It was the first time I had pitched all season, excluding practice, so I was a little rusty. I had been buried on the bench, but I had known I would be because the coach had made it clear he wanted me back for my attitude. I guess you could call me a poor man’s version of Kevin Millar. It didn’t make me feel any better at being buried on the bench, though, because I knew I could play. I was coming off a summer season where I mashed the ball and threw solid innings off the mound. I was drawing the final start because we had been knocked out of the playoffs the game before, and he wanted to reward me for gutting two years out on the club with barely any action.
That reward turned into me missing summer baseball, where I would have played every day, for physical therapy. My back was screwed up, and even though it’s healed (I’m not lying comatose on the couch anymore writhing in pain) it still hurts enough to remind me of that day when I took the mound, or field, for that matter, for the final time. And yesterday I realized something – that I would go through it all over again just to get out on that mound again. Knowing I’d have to repeat a season of being buried on the bench (two at-bats the entire season, not one play in the field). Knowing I’d take the mound brimming with confidence and with my stuff humming. (I never could throw heat, I lived off my slider/sinker combo, which to work, needs hitters to chase it. Why are they going to chase it if the umpire won’t call any pitches on the black of the plate strikes?) Knowing I’d walk a gazillion batters, get a headache courtesy of the heat beating down on me. Knowing I’d only pitch an inning, then the next day wake up in pain and spend all that money and time in physical therapy. Because I want to get out on that field again.
Oh sure, I’ll always have wiffleball, a pickup game of softball, and so on … but it’s not the same. Putting on my baseball pants, socks, cleats, putting on the uniform, jamming my hat on my head, getting my glove and my bat bag and heading off to the field to practice and if it was a good day, to play a competitive game. There’s just something to me about stepping onto the field ready to play ball, throwing the ball around, swinging the bat, running to first base. I didn’t know how good I had it then. There were times I was tired of baseball, I wanted to quit. Times I didn’t want to go to practice, or hit. I’d love to go back and smack myself hard and tell myself to enjoy it, because it’s going away soon.
I can’t play summer ball anymore. I’m too old, and plus even if I wasn’t, the team dissolved over the winter due to no one being able to/willing to coach. So now all I have is the Red Sox. All I have of baseball, the closest feeling I’ll have to being a baseball player, to throwing the ol’ horsehide round the field is the Red Sox. And that scares me a little, because if I’m already a huge fan of the Red Sox, how much bigger am I going to get now that they’re all I have linking me to the grand old game? All I have to look forward to is playing catch in the backyard in the summer, and that’s if my back behaves. That’s a far cry from playing in a baseball game, but yet I’m eagerly awaiting the day the snow melts and I can get out there and sling the ball around in my backyard. It’s very important to me now to grip that baseball and throw it, even if it’s just a friendly game of catch. I’m also eagerly awaiting the day the Red Sox start Spring Training, because then I can watch baseball. This off season has been the most wrenching of them all, because at least in the other off seasons I was training for baseball. I was working out, I was taking pitching and hitting lessons, so I was still involved in baseball. But I’m not anymore, so all I have now is the Red Sox and playing catch in the backyard.
So that’s where I am right now – vicariously living through the Red Sox.
Sometime next week, we’ll meet someone who is still lucky enough to be playing baseball. Minor league pitcher Jon Papelbon was kind enough to grant me an interview, and that interview will run sometime near the tail end of next week. While I live to watch the Red Sox, he’s working this very moment to make the Red Sox.
All I have to say is this: 62 days until Opening Day.