I was enjoying a day off on this particular day and we were playing fairly well. As the seventh inning rolled around the game was close; I think we had a two-run lead. The bottom of the seventh proved to be an inning from Hell as every ball that touched the Shorebirds bat found a hole or dropped for a hit. They quickly piled up nine runs in the inning.
During the course of this drawn out inning, myself, Travis Mattair and Jeremy Hamilton were standing on the top step watching. We began to talk about the possibility of a position player throwing since the game was getting out of hand and it wouldn't make sense to burn up our bullpen. I told the guys that I came into college as a two way guy, but pitching didn't work out, yet every summer of my collegiate career I was called upon in a similar situation to pitch. Every time I was called upon I did well too.
A few minutes after we started talking about this possibility, Dusty called me over. I started to think that it really might happen, but told myself not to get my hopes up as I walked over. Dusty quickly looked at me and asked if I knew how to pitch and if I could throw strikes. I told him yes to both and he quickly said, "go warm up" and walked away. I grabbed my glove with a smirk on my face and all the guys in the dugout started to get excited. Despite being blown out, we were going to have some fun with it anyway, especially since the season was almost over and we had already clinched a spot in the playoffs.
As I jogged down to the bullpen all the pitchers leaned forward off their bench to see who was coming down. Once I got down there they had an idea of what was going on and when I told them I needed to warm up on the bump they all got very excited and started watching me throw to see what kind of stuff I had. Jacob Diekman quickly told me that I couldn't go out there with my outfielder glove on, so he tossed me his and I gave him my outfield glove. As I started really getting warm, some of the pitchers had stood up and were standing beside me watching me throw and telling me to throw some sliders and curves. After breaking a few off, they seemed to be pretty impressed with my strike throwing ability and the actual quality of my off-speed pitches. Having them "oohh" and "awe" behind me was definitely a confidence booster and helped get me ready to go out there and do my thing. Bob Milacki, our pitching coach, ran down real quick as I was warming up and told me to just take it easy and throw strikes and to not try and throw super hard because I wouldn't be able to lift my arm the next day if I did.
The bottom of the eighth quickly rolled around and it was my turn to get my first professional inning in on the bump. I walked from the bullpen onto the field for about five steps and then jogged the rest of the way. As I got to the mound, my boy Travis D'arnaud, who was catching, jogged out to greet me with a smile and to see what pitches I would be throwing. I told him four-seam and two-seam fastball and a cutter. My out-pitch is actually my slider, but after Bob's speech, I decided to not tell Travis that I had one. As Travis ran to the plate to get ready to catch my warm up pitches I glanced over at our dugout where our entire team was on the top step hollering at me. I flashed them a quick smile and began warming up. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous, but I quickly reminded myself that I've done this before and that my task was simple; throw strikes and get some outs. I threw a few warm up pitches in the dirt and actually drilled the umpire in the thigh with one. I finished up and Travis threw it down to second base and the inning began.
As I stepped on the rubber and got the sign, I remembered what our pitching coach in college would always tell our pitchers, take a deep breathe before your pitch and compose yourself. So, I inhaled deeply, got the sign and let it rip. The first batter was a lefty, so my first thought was to not hit him. I quickly reversed this thought, because I know when you tell yourself not to do something, your mind doesn't hear the "don't" and you end up doing exactly what you were trying to avoid doing. I went down 2-0 to him and then threw two strikes before running the count full. I told myself that I'm here to throw strikes, not to walk people and get too cute out there, so with the 3-2 count I just threw a fastball on the outer half and he hit a routine fly to left field for the first out.
The next batter was a righty. I got ahead with a fastball and then threw a ball. My next pitch was swung on and missed so I had the guy in a 1-2 count. Normally, in my pitching days I would break off a slider middle in and keep it down to get a strike out, but since Travis didn't know I had a slider, he called for my cutter. Just to mess with the hitter, Travis didn't put any signs down and shook his head at me. I didn't know what this meant at first, but I quickly caught on, he was trying to get me to fake like I was shaking off his pitch call, so I shook twice and then he put the cutter sign down. I threw a backdoor cutter and the hitter swung and hit it to right field for another routine fly and out number two.
The next hitter was a righty and I quickly got ahead of him with a fastball. I threw a ball and then my next pitch was a two-seam in and I got it in on his hands and jammed him. He hit a weak fly ball to our shortstop and my inning was over.
As I walked off the mound and towards the dugout I looked up and saw most of my teammates waiting for me at the top step to high-five me on a job well done. Bob and Dusty both walked over and shook my hand and told me I did a great job. After the game was over my arm was starting to tighten up a bit, but luckily we have a great trainer who told me to come in and do the post throwing exercises that all the pitchers do after they pitch. Once I finished the exercise and got my arm stretched, my arm felt great and the next day it was only slightly sore.
The guys had a lot of fun with it and were messing around with me afterward about how I should be a pitcher instead of a hitter. I'm glad it all worked out and that we could have a little fun with the game despite losing like we did. It dawned on me a little bit later in the evening that I am able to say that I pitched professionally. That's an honor that most people, even professional ball players who are hitters cannot claim. I was kind of taken back at this thought, especially when I considered all the great pitchers that I had played with growing up and in college that never got a chance professionally. I'm extremely lucky to have had this opportunity and I'm grateful that it worked like it did.