Doing My Juan Marichal Impression

The mound

The mound

When I was in youth baseball I spent most of my time in either center field or first base. I was pretty fast (a lot less poundage then) and could catch well so it was center and first for me. The team was pretty good and much of our strength was our pitching (bet that surprised the heck out of you, didn’t it?). We had three excellent, for youth baseball, pitchers and when they were on we could run up some pretty serious scores. If they weren’t on, well,  the other team was known to run up some pretty serious scores. Our coach had a policy of not wasting pitching when we were either blowing the other guys out or they were blowing us out. In that case, he’d bring in one of the position players to take up a couple of  innings or to take one for the team. That’s how I got my one and only chance at pitching immortality.

I was 11 (I think) and we were up a gazillion to nothing after four innings. We did six innings back then and Coach decided it was time to change out pitchers. As we came off the field he pulled me aside and told me that after I finished my at bat (and hopefully scored) I was to go warm up as I would pitch the fifth and our other first baseman (he was normally the third baseman) would take over for me at first. Despite being in something of a fog of amazement, I got on base (don’t recall how), scored, then found the backup catcher and started warming up. I wasn’t sure exactly how you warmed up, but I threw the ball to the catcher a few times.

Then it was my turn. Coach pulled me aside, “Look, we’ve got this one sewn up. Just go out there and lob the ball down the middle. Let ’em hit it at someone. We field well.” So off I went to the mound. “Chariots of Fire” and “Rocky” weren’t out yet so I have no idea what theme music was going through my head, but there I was perched for greatness.

You ever notice how high a mound is? OK, I’d been on one before when we had meetings at the mound, but I’d never really looked the damned thing over before. It was really tall. I was a good head and shoulders above everyone else out there except for this one really tall umpire. Now that makes you think about greatness.

But exactly how do you pitch? I had no idea, I’d never done it before. Well, Juan Marichal was new, seemed good, and looked great with that giant leg kick of his. So if he could do the high leg kick, why couldn’t I. He also threw really, really hard like I was gonna do (sorry, Coach, but I just have to show the world my speed). So I rocked back, threw my leg as high as I could, and realized I couldn’t see the plate, the leg was in the way. I let the ball go as hard as I could throw. It missed the plate by eight feet. The catcher missed it by five feet. That brought both the catcher and Coach to the mound.

“What the heck was that? You not understand the word ‘lob’? Just lob the damned ball over the plate,” I was reminded. The catcher gave me the ball, a shake of the head, and went back to his squat. OK, Coach, you want a lob, you got a lob. This one bounced about three feet in front of the plate. Ball two. The next pitch was better and the poor batter, finally seeing something he might hit, took a swing. The ball had nothing on it, he topped it, and it rolled into the infield, coming to rest a couple of feet from me. I picked it up, tossed it to our backup first baseman, and I’d gotten an out. One third of an inning and no base runners.  

Hey, this stuff  is easy, Coach. How’s come I don’t get to pitch more? Doing great, Juan, doing great.

But now here came the next batter. I knew the kid. He was their eight hitter and it dawned on me that Coach had given me the seven, eight, and nine hitters to get out. OK, Coach, I can mow down the bottom of the order.

So I stared in at the batter. I stared. I stared again. I stared some more. Bob Gibson would have been proud of that stare. I was intimidating the heck out of him. Kid wasn’t going to hit me. He was going to tremble. The opposition was going to tremble.

“Hey, idiot, throw the ball.” My teammates were, however, going to be bored.

Oh, yeah, I gotta throw it. I did. He swung. He missed. The catcher caught it. Then came another swinging strike. Now I had him.  Turned out I did. He was so out of sorts, I lobbed one right by him. He took it for strike three and I now had a strikeout. Top that, Juan Marichal. Can you strut while standing still?

OK, one more out to get and it’s the very bottom of the order. Here’ a kid that hasn’t gotten a hit all year. He’s swung maybe twice. He’s been hit once, he’s walked once, he’s never scored. So I got him easy, right? So let’s do something daring. I threw the ball a little harder and he swung. For God’s sake he swung. The ball rolled out into the field. I was shocked, he was shocked, his mother was shocked. Fortunately our second baseman wasn’t shocked. He raced over, picked up the ball, tossed it to first and the inning was over.

So I came off the field. No one raised me on their shoulders. No one played martial music (we were a very undemonstrative team). Coach nodded “good job.” And I went to the rack, got a bat (I was on deck to lead off the sixth). God, that was easy. Maybe Coach will give me the ball again. I got this pitching stuff down. He never did, but I still got an 0.00 ERA with a strikeout. Talk about a heck of a WHIP. Top that, Juan Marichal.

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3 Responses to “Doing My Juan Marichal Impression”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    V, I really enjoyed that immensely! That was a very humorous slice of life piece.

    Now, you say that this was right after Marichal broke in, so I’m thinking 1961 or 1962. You were thinking of what the theme music running through your head could have been, since “Rocky” and “Chariots of Fire” wasn’t out yet.

    Maybe “Let’s Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer” by Chubby Checker? Nah. That makes no sense.

    Maybe “You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles? That’s kind of familiar, since the batters didn’t KNOW you, so they didn’t know what to expect? “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” by Marty Robbins, since the manager was a little apprehensive about your pitching. Or maybe “Surrender” or “Good Luck Charm” by Elvis, since you wanted the batter to “surrender”, or you really needed a “good luck charm” on the mound?

    At any rate, you didn’t tell what happened after Juan Marichal (you) got to bat, as the story ended right there. Since you were Juan Marichal, you didn’t hit the opposing team’s catcher on the head with the bat, did you? I sure hope not.

    Anyway, a fine and very entertaining story, V! I particularly enjoy it when you write these pieces about your childhood!

    Glen

    • verdun2 Says:

      Don’t know if I knew Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” but it would have been perfect. As I recall I walked so no need to clobber the catcher.
      thanks for the kind words.
      v

  2. William Miller Says:

    Great stuff, man. I could picture the whole thing in my head. Funny how coaches just assume that their little kid players just instinctively know how to do these things. I’m the same way with my kid. Once, I watched him field a ball, and he had no idea what to do with it. I was yelling, “First Base!” at him, but he looked at me like I was telling him what we were going to have for dinner. It occurred to me at that moment that no one (meaning me) had ever told him about the concept of the force-out at first base. Oh well.
    Bill

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