Duck! I'm throwing the Oilers batting practice

Sports Views

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2007

The ball flew off the end of second baseman Kyle Melton's wooden bat like a bullet out of a pistol.

As it zipped by my head, less than a yard from my face, I started to second guess my decision to pitch batting practice to the Peninsula Oilers.

Once it was safely by me, though, I continued on like it never happened, just pleased I was fortunate enough to be creating this memorable opportunity.

Besides, Melton was probably just getting me back for the two beanings he took in the shoulder earlier in the outing.

I guess it was worth it.

The idea came to me rather simply, as my rookie season covering the Oilers has been more than enjoyable and considering baseball is far and away my favorite sport to watch and play.

Although I didn't play competitively too much.

Of course I was in Little League, but I also attended former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman's baseball camp one summer and I even made the town traveling team, to the surprise of many. I was a sharp fielder, the glove my best friend, but when it came to hitting, well, I wasn't Barry Bonds.

Sure, I had my share of hits — even a two-run double, as evidenced by a local newspaper clipping in my scrapbook. To put it simply, I was afraid of the ball.

I failed to try out for the high school team, thus limiting my baseball experience from then on out to long tosses and pitching and hitting with my friends.

So, I decided to test myself against the Alaska Baseball League's finest before their game against the Mat-Su Miners — although I was instructed to solely throw fastballs.

When I approached manager Daniel Boyle with the idea a few weeks ago, he gave me the green light, but made sure to inform me multiple times that I couldn't be upset if he needed to pull me for failure to throw strikes.

I told him I wouldn't, partly because I didn't think it'd come to that.

But honestly, I was nervous.

I'd be standing behind a net, yet that didn't seem to comfort me one bit.

A short toss with Boyle in front of the dugout warmed me up — not just my arm, but my mind, too.

I was ready to go.

"You pitching batting practice today?" asked Oilers' pitcher Tyler Fleming as he was hitting grounders to infielders.

I told him I was, producing a smile and snicker or two, and I unabashedly took the hill.

Walking toward the bucket of balls placed behind the net, I noticed I'd be throwing a lot closer to home plate than I had previously realized.

Before I could even think of how fast I should throw or what would happen should I hit someone in the head, as they don't wear helmets, it was go-time.

Boyle called in the first group — shortstop Adam Younger, utility man Juan Martinez and Melton — and I quickly let them know to freely tell me how to better my pitches regarding location and speed.

My first few tosses were slow, as I was standing roughly 20 feet from them, fearing a ball to the head could land them on the season-ending disabled list.

But I started to get the hang of it, comfortably falling into a steady groove of strikes, the three of them hacking away, making solid contact with most of my offerings.

I was throwing over the right-side opening and tilting behind the netting to the left as I released. I thought I was doing fine.

Basically taking up residence directly on top of the plate, Melton was clearly the toughest to pitch to.

A short, right-hander with a steady swing, he crushed a few of my pitches in all directions, intermittently being hit by a couple of my tosses.

He didn't seem to mind, though, and it was clear why.

Getting hit by a 30 miles per hour fastball probably feels like getting stung by a premature bee.

Besides, he'd get his revenge.

Moments later, the ball came out of my hand, and before I could even blink, it was whizzing back at my face at nearly 100 miles per hour. Somehow, some way, I managed to nimbly shift behind the netting and avoid being knocked unconscious — possibly escaping a bloody death.

My heart was racing. Boyle and others, however, got a kick out of it, laughing behind the batting cage.

He then approached me while the players were gathering balls and instructed me to take a few steps back, position myself behind the netting, and throw normally — my delivery occurring naturally, leaving me behind the net at the completion of my motion.

Thanks, Dan. But that bit of information could have been helpful earlier.

I was able to find my zone again, Martinez taking me off the top of the left field wall as I watched the ball sail through the air. But just as quickly, I lost what momentum I had.

Figuring I was in for the next batch of hitters, Boyle informed me I was done. He had to pull me. They weren't hitting enough balls.

My day was over after approximately 60 or 70 pitches.

A little embarrassed but even more surprised, I dejectedly walked off the mound thinking I could have done better.

And I certainly could have, but facing collegiate hitters isn't as easy as it looks — despite what I occasionally tend to think from the stands.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience, most likely for everyone involved.

They're just lucky they didn't face my curveball, though.

I'm not sure they'd get much practice out of swinging and missing.

Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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