Bags of Bran

Throwing the Heater
May 17, 2012, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Biography, Personal Adventures

When I was in high school, my baseball coach would tell me that fastballs were the best strikeout pitch. “Throw the heat,” he would say as we practiced. “OK,” I would say in response, teeth clenched, with precisely the same feeling churning in my coily innards as Galileo felt when “the boys” showed up to tell him that the solar system was just so. I was one of them math and science kids, you see, and nothing fascinated me more than curveballs.

Ahhh, the curveball. It’s like a match of fisticuffsmanship between Sir Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli (Queensberry Rules, of course) where everybody wins! How could a pitch that pits smart people against one another not be the greatest pitch of all? Right to left, up to down, slow and loopy, or hot and abrupt. My heroes were Doug Jones of the Brewers, Mike Mussina of the Orioles, and Eck. Yeah, I don’t throw like any of those guys, but they all had nasty breaking stuff that got guys out.

But I remember watching Jones pitch a game on TV for the Brewers. He was fun to watch because all of his pitches were slow by Major League standards. Painfully slow: often the catcher’s return throw registered higher on the radar gun than Jones’ pitches. He threw a sinking changeup at about 55 mph, a circle change that faded away at about 60 mph, a curveball that looped around like a heat-seeker at about 65 mph, and…. uh…. there was one other pitch… can’t remember because he threw it so seldom… oh yes! A laser-straight mid-80’s fastball.

I watched Jones fan three batters in an inning that day by throwing looping junkballs that the flummoxed batters swung at too early or fouled away, then ZAP! A very pedestrian fastball, after all of those freakish pumpkins, suddenly looked like a rifle shot. Three up, three down, all strikeouts, all on fastballs. Much like the Trojan Horse, it was not a strategy that would repay multiple visits, but the element of surprise clearly worked in Jones’ favor.

Mr. Man learned a lesson that day.

So nowadays, when I play whiffle ball with the wife, I save the laser-straight 80 furlongs-per-coon’s age for the out pitch after lofting junkballs to a junk-baller’s count. She’s seen it enough that she knows to wait for it, but she still has to catch up to it! Sometimes I throw it with a little bit of cut so it tails down and away a bit, but that’s if I’m feeling very secure in our marriage.

If we just got back from a date, it’s knuckleballs.


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