The Mulleted Southpaw My first year in the Show – aka, Little League, I was a Ten-Year old tiny little glasses wearing freakshow who couldn't hit a lick, couldn't catch a cold, and couldn't throw a fit. So they stuck me in right field.
I was absolutely awful at the plate. Swung late on everything. Tried to lean into pitches just so I could get on base, but I was even late on the lean. I couldn't even square around to bunt,
About two-thirds of the way through my season, I realized what my problem was. I never looked at the pitcher when I stood in the batters box. Instead, I looked directly over the plate. My thought was, "okay, if I look directly over the plate, I can tell what pitches are going to be balls and which ones will be strikes. If the ball is coming over the plate, I'll swing at it."
The problem with this, of course, is that once I saw the ball, I had about .0015 seconds to get the bat off my shoulder and make contact with the pitch.
I'd like to thank all my idiot coaches who never gave me the time of day that year, and who never pointed out to me that what I was doing was incredibly, incredibly stupid.
Once I figured this out, and started looking at the pitcher, I started tearing the snot out of the ball. The difference was like night and day.
In the off-season, I decided to do two things. I wanted out of the outfield. Right field was boring. Even if I sucked, I wanted in on the action. And where is there more action that first base? (Well, catcher. But I'm left-handed, and left-handed people aren't supposed to catch.) Day after day that fall, and in the winter when there wasn't snow on the ground, I took to throwing a tennis ball as hard as I could against the garage door, running after it and making diving stops.
I was going to become the greatest fielding first baseman in Little League history.
This actually worked, as next year I impressed the coaching staff enough with my fielding that they made me the starting first baseman. And after starting out slowly at the plate, my hitting started to pick up with all the increased playing times. I even hit three home runs that year.
But really, all I wanted to do was pitch.
That was the other thing I worked on in the off-season. The pitching. I have always loved pitching. It's my favorite part of baseball. The motion. The mechanics. The arm angles. The psychological staredown between batter and pitcher. Setting up the hitter, playing him like a fiddle. Not showing the hitter your best pitch until he doesn't see it coming. Mano e mano, tete a tete, one on one. Pitcher's best vs. hitter's best. Who's got it? Who's best is best? Who's the man?
I worked on all different kinds of arm angles. Sidearm. The submarine. Classic Roger Clemens overhand. I ever taught myself to throw a curveball. (This is a bad thing to do, by the way. You shouldn't throw curveballs til you're almost fully grown. Tears the hell out of young arms.)
About halfway through the season, I asked my coach if he'd bring me in just to pitch one inning sometime. He was always reluctant about that, because he had his pitchers and tended to trust them.
So imagine my surprise when I'm trotting out to first during the last inning of out next game, trying to hold on to a 1-run lead, and out coach points to Tony, our shortstop and says "Tony, I want you to take over at first. Chris is pitching the last inning."
The sight of me on the mound must have looked very funny to the other team. There I was, some chunky, clunky mulleted left-hander with big gold glasses and a cowlick trying to throw a ball of the plate.
I walked the first batter on four pitches.
I wasn't sure what exactly I was thinking. I thought that I felt most comfortable pitching sidearm, and that most kids that age wouldn't be used to seeing the ball come at them from that angle. Well, I was right. A little too right. Our catcher wasn't used to catching pitches from that angle. Especially pitches that were flung out of control and nowhere near the plate.
Of course, after that, the opposing bench was all riled up and making noise, starting the dreaded "pitcher's getting rattled!" chant. And up next was Jamie M.
That little prick had been a thorn in my side for years. He was in my cub scout troop for the past three years. Always thought he was better than everybody. Smarter than everybody. Thought his older, pimply faced D&D playing brothers were God's gift to the earth. He was a private school kid, and he always looked down on the rest of us. I hated that prick.
"Oh, good. I get to win the game against Romine. A piece of lettuce. C'mon Lettuce!"
Yes, my name almost sounds like a variety of lettuce. Why anyone thought that would bother me is anyone's guess.
His brothers – 16 and 18 at the time, stood up from their lawn chairs and started mocking me too. Big men they were taunting an 11 year old. Big big D&D playing men. Wearing Monkees t-shirts.
I decided to fuck this sidearm shit and went to the straight-over-the-top badass Roger Clemens windup.
First pitch I threw was fastball straight at Jamie's head. Fuck it. I already walked the leadoff batter. If I as going to lose this game, I was at least going to let people know that I wasn't going to be shown up.
Jamie dropped to his ass. That felt good.
That's when they started the "You suck Romine" chants.
Oh geez. And entire bench yelling "you suck" at me. Two teenage assclowns in Monkees t-shirts. You wanna tell me I suck? That's fine. Bring it.
Second pitch was a fastball low and away. Swing and a miss. Eat it.
Third pitch, I decided to change it up a bit. I had seen Frank Viola of the twins throw a circle-change, so I figured I try that one out. The point of that pitch is that, when you throw it, you throw it with the same arm speed and push-off as you would a fastball, so it looks like a fastball is coming. But the circle grip absorbs a lot of the wind-ups momentum, so the ball travels to the plate much more slowly than a fastball. Keeps the hitter off-balance and way out in front.
Which is exactly what happened. Swing and a miss, strike two.
The crowd was getting restless now. A bunch of the parents on my team's side started yelling at the other team's parents. Telling them "you better tell your kid to shut up, cuz we've got two strikes on the guy" and blah blah blah.
Jamie kept talkin' shit. I didn't hear him. For my next pitch, I thought I'd try the old Mike Scott split finger fastball, a pitch thrown straight over the top but with a rapid, tight spin that caused the ball to dip downward at the last second.
I don't think I had ever thrown this pitch before, and I don't think I was strong enough at that age to make it work.
Whatever it was, that did it. And the little bitch went down swinging. Eat it. Eat a dick.
Since that sequence seemed to work so well, I stuck with it through the next three batters. And it worked. Struck out all three. That's right, three, The catcher had dropped one of my splitters on the third strike, and so the batter ran to first and was safe. But no matter. I struck the next guys out for the save.
The final line –
Honky (S,1) – 1IP 0H 1BB 0R 0ER 4K
But all that – the strikeouts, the save, etc. – was merely secondary in the moment. Really, all I wanted to do was shut Jamie's ass up and strike him out.