Last week, Beerleaguer was given a chance to live the life of a Reading Phillie as part of Baseball Fantasy Day at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Putting bat to ball instead of pen to paper is every sportswriter’s worst nightmare, but who has time for self-degradation when you’re having so much fun? Contest winners, United Way sponsors and yours truly were treated to the full Reading Phillie experience last Thursday: locker rooms; custom uniforms; two hours of batting and fielding practice with five ex-Phillies, including John Kruk, Gary Maddox, Greg Gross, Ricky Botallico and Eric Valent; followed by a nine-inning game in front of the wincing gazes of friends, family and concerned citizens. Our team won 17-12. I played third, doubled and struck out in my triumphant return to the diamond. I hit 17th in the lineup. Was it Bill James who called the 17-hole hitter the most important? The last time I stepped onto the field was 16 years ago. Comparatively speaking, a 16-year layoff meant I was in the prime of my career next to other participants.
My purpose for being there was to spread the word for our Reading Eagle partners and to observe. The first thing you notice is how much baseball hurts your hands. Relays to first pummel your mitt, glancing swings rattle your nails. These hands, conditioned to fondle a computer mouse, aren’t long for the bronzing of baseball.
The next thing you notice is that the infield, which looks as silken as liquid chocolate when raked, actually contains microscopic death shards designed to rip holes in your flesh. In baseball, the worst mistake you can make is to fall to the ground. The infield grit will tear you, metal spikes impale you, fences skewer you.
Finally, you gain an instant appreciation for a professional player’s ability not to drift off into outer space during hours of batting practice. A generous amount of a ballplayer’s career is spent shagging balls and watching teammates hit in the cage. Including spring training, it works out to roughly 200 batting practice sessions a season. These usually occur during the hottest hours of the day. The rest of their time at the park is divided among signing autographs, doing interviews and watching video. Getting back to my earlier point from the previous thread, no wonder players keep such an even keel over a 162-game season. Our dugout needed two buckets of Budweiser just to make it once through the lineup.