Days before the home opener the Beavers held media day. It’s the day we spring trainee graduates officially become the face of a fresh minor league season. We got our pictures taken, sound bytes done, intro music selected, etc.
Then we were asked background questions, stuff that makes for good program reading. One of the questions asked me was the old standard, “who has played a major influence in your baseball career?” I thought about it for a while. The previous question, the one about pre-game ritual, was thrown out when I jokingly went off on a tangent involving open flame and body paint. Feeling bad about my lack of usable material, I thought I’d give them better answer this time around.
“My grandmother and God.” I said.
They looked at me like I had just placed my grandmother on par with The Almighty. Though she’s spent a good deal of her life proselytizing me with concussive strokes of the Bible over my head, I wouldn’t dare place her on the same level as the big G. I told them it was a long story. They said they’d love to hear it, you know, player interest piece for the fans.
“All right, here goes. This story takes place last season, with the Beavers, on a cool Colorado night I would like to forget . . .” (Cue flashback effects).
My mom wasn’t supposed to be there. Neither was my grandma or grandpa. Heck, I wasn’t supposed to be there, but that’s how it turned out. I was in Colorado Springs, my family was there, and I was getting my brains beat in.
My grandma prays for me when she watches me pitch. Thank God she’s only seen me pitch twice because at the last game she attended, another night I’d like to forget, I took a 93-mph line drive to the jewels. I spent two days in the hospital, and got an organizational rule named after me mandating cups be worn by all players when on the field. At the time I wasn’t wearing one, operating under the thought process, “what are the chances a ball hits me in . . . “
Now I wear a cup to bed.
After surrendering my sixth consecutive hit in Colorado, I wanted to call time out, ask grandma to stop praying, maybe have grandpa buy her a beer. Sure, I wasn’t on my way to the hospital, but the experience was certainly painful enough.
At some point during the utter obliteration of my ERA, I got a fresh ball from the umpire and took a detour to the mound. I walked around it, rubbing up the new ball, staring out to the scoreboard, mentally negotiating with it. Maybe the bulbs were wrong and that 9 was really a 7? I took some deep breath and began to wonder how I got into this mess?
Mom was out to visit her brother whom lives in the area. The grandparents, as they are so fond of doing, decided to tag along. The trip was planned months in advance and by some cosmic twist of fate I to was on the scene. I was called up from my Double-A hotel in Wichita to lend a hand to the Triple-A club also destined for Colorado. Of course when I found I was going up, I was excited. My family had not seen me play in a professional game in three years and there I was, right before their eyes, one step below the bigs. The stage was already set for another “What are the chances” scenario.
After the seventh hit disappeared into the darkness beyond the scoreboard, which was indeed a 9, I began to wish my family shutout was still in effect. I was pulled after a glorious 1/3, despite the hearty cheers of the home crowd. They begged my manager to leave me in. One fan shouted I was their best player! The people there are very supportive.
I made my way into the dugout, head up, trying to look tough like I hadn’t given up seven-ish runs. Some fellow players patted my shoulder and smacked me in the rear, but I was to numb to feel it. I sat down and mechanically sipped at some water while the pitching coach’s voice washed over me like the teacher from Charlie Brown. I just had the worst outing of my professional career in front of my family. How did this happen? I flew all the way up here for this!? I glanced over at my family in the stands. They were looking in at me, possibly wondering if I was going to tie an exotic knot around my neck, except grandma. She was mouthing silently with her hands closed like a teepee. I half expected an anvil to fail on me or meteor to streak into the dugout. Exactly which side was she praying to anyway?
After the game, my family waited to speak with me outside the clubhouse. I grudgingly made my way over, walking like a dog with his tail between his legs. My uncle slapped me on the shoulder and told me I looked good out there, which was a bad lie. My mother stood defensively off to the side and said, “I know better then to talk to you after a bad outing.” And my grandma, innocent and ignorant, looked up at me and said, “Honey, I was praying for you today.”
I looked back at her and said, “Grandma, I think it’s time we tested your theory on the afterlife.”
P.S. I love you grandma, keep praying!
*If you don’t believe in divine appointments after this article, bear in mind the name of the team that hit the line drive was the Lugnuts.