Thursday, September 29, 2016

That Time When I Faced a Major League Pitcher

Eli, Sam, Grant, and me at Chase Field in Arizona 
 So I got this text message from my brother-in-law the other day:

I was perusing and saw an article that caught my attention -- Can an Ordinary Guy Hit a Major League Pitch. I read the line "if your brother-in-law were plunked down..." only to realize -- wait a minute, that IS my brother-in-law! That must have been a really cool experience. 

Spoiler alert: It was.

The Backstory

My friend Grant: Hey Spencer, do you want to go to an Arizona Diamondbacks game and hit batting practice against Major League pitcher?

Um. Yes, please. That sounds like pretty much the coolest thing I could imagine doing.

Cool. The four of us are going to make the 10-hour drive in a Honda Fit. And then we're all going to sleep in a haunted hotel, in one hotel room with two queen-sized beds. And then we're going to drive 10 hours back. 

Hmm. That's a lot of bodies and a lot of time in a little car. And I haven't shared a bed with another dude since I went to Weezer in New York with Ty. And, before that, since the time I shared a hotel bed in Antwerp with my mission companion (that's another story entirely).

Can I think about it?


I thought about it. And then I said yes.

How it Went Down 

A few months ago, I was sitting at my desk at work. Grant stopped by and said, “Does anybody want to do stand-up comedy with me at open mic night at Wise Guys? I want to check it off my bucket list.”

I said yes. (That’s also another story.)

Then a few months later, my coworker Sam had something on his bucket list. “Hey guys, I’ve always wanted to see if I could hit a Major League fastball.”

Pfff. Like that would ever happen.  

And then it did. A few weeks later Grant said, “Hey guys, I told the Arizona Diamonds that I wanted to write a story for KSL called ‘Can a Regular Guy Hit a Major League Baseball?’ And they said yes! Do you want to go?”

So We Drove to Arizona 

Right before lunch on Friday, Sam, Grant, and I got into to Eli’s Honda Fit. Eight hours of driving and lots of Red Vines later, we had made to Flagstaff, Arizona.

We stayed in the Hotel Monte Vista, known for its spooky history. We were just a few doors down from the Haunted Rocking Chair.

Once featured on the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," room 305 is by far the most active room in the hotel. There are numerous reports of seeing a woman in the rocking chair near the window. Guests and housekeeping have reports of seeing the chair move by itself and knocking coming from inside the closet! History tells us that years ago an elderly woman who was a long-term renter would sit by the window for hours on end. No one knows what she was looking at or looking for. Could it be she is waiting for someone to return, even in death? 

Between being tired from traveling and worried about sharing a bed with another dude, I didn’t have any energy to be haunted by ghosts. Bummer. Next time.

Heading to Phoenix 

We woke up Saturday morning and headed off to the stadium. Thanks to good conversation in the car, the time flew by. But once we hit downtown Phoenix, the nerves started to kick in.

Here’s the thing. I love baseball. I’ve loved baseball since I got my first tee-ball uniform — a yellow Murray Rec t-shirt and a white foam trucker hat; my mom used a stencil and a Sharpie to color in a letter P to make my Phillies uniform come to life. I loved Little League. I loved Babe Ruth. When I can’t sleep at night, I pretend I’m walking out to the mound to pitch under the lights. I love baseball. (Not trying out for the high school team remains one of my biggest regrets.)

So hitting batting practice was kind of a big deal. I didn’t need to be a big hitter. If I could at least not make a fool of myself — maybe a foul bar or two, I’d be happy.

In the Cage

We got to the stadium around 11:00, where we met up with the Diamondbacks’ PR guy. He took us down to the players-only batting cage underneath the stadium and left us alone with the weighted bats and beat up batting helmets while we waited for the pitcher to arrive.

After a few minutes Mark Reed, a former Major Leaguer and current Diamondbacks bullpen catcher, walked in and told us he was going to throw us seven pitches each.

This was getting really real.

Grant went first. He hit almost all of them. Then Sam went. He hit a bunch, too. Now I was really feeling the pressure. What if I got in there and missed everything?

Right before Sam finished, Grant hollered to the pitcher, “Hey, do you think you could turn up the heat a little bit?”

Batting practice pitchers don’t stand on the mound. They stand about two-thirds of the way between home plate and the pitching rubber. That way he doesn’t have to throw it as hard to match game speeds.

“Yeah, no problem.” He wound up and threw and it whizzed right past Sam. It was the equivalent of about 90 mph. Whoo. That’s fast.

Then it was my turn.

Luckily, Mark started off slow. He lobbed me a few softies. With each one I hit, my confidence picked up a bit.

I’m doing! I’m hitting it!

And then he turned up the speed.

Whoosh! Right past me. In came the next one, but I was ready this time.

Crack! (Or maybe Ping! Even though we were hitting in the Majors, they let us use an aluminum bat.)

I hit it.

Not hard. Not far. But I hit it. I hit a pitch thrown by a Major League pitcher.

Yes, it was in a batting cage. Yes, it was just a fastball and not a slider or a curve or a knuckle ball. But I did it!

The Professionals

After our batting session was over, we got to see how the big boys do it. We walked through the dugout (which was awesome, by the way) and onto the field to watch the Diamondbacks take batting practice. Batter after batter rocked pitches into the empty seats in the upper deck. Amazing. Then the Dodgers came on and did the same.

As the players walked past us on their way back to clubhouse after batting practice, I was struck by two things: these were big, strong dudes and they were really young. When I get called up to the big leagues (which is pretty much inevitable after my batting cage performance), I’m going to be the elder statesman of the team. I better get used to being called Old Man Utah.

Nice View

The Diamondbacks gave us tickets to the game — and press passes, too! So we wandered everywhere we thought those passes could take us. We eventually ended up in the press box behind home plate.

While the sports reporters sitting next to us were frantically typing up their stories about the game, we were eating ice cream and hoping to catch a foul ball. At one point, I was trying to explain designated hitters to Eli, who, prior to that day, had not hit a baseball since he was six years old.

“You can use a DH in the American League. But in the National League, pitchers have to hit for themselves,” I said.

“Wait, wait, wait. One league is called the American League and the other is the National League?” Eli replied. “Don’t they realize those both mean the same thing?”

Yep, we didn’t stand out in the press room at all.

Heading home

After a night in a (non-haunted) hotel in Phoenix, we headed back home. When we got back in the car, I was still riding high from the baseball experience — but that doesn't make a 10-hour drive any easier.

Fortunately, when you’ve got three guys who can spin yarns about treasure hunting, Scientology, high school misadventures, polygamy, and international escapes from the law, the time passes by pretty quickly. 

Experience of a lifetime.

Here’s Grant’s KSL article.

1 comment:

grant olsen said...

Rereading this post was like taking a leisurely drive down memory lane. Definitely one of my favorite road trips of all time! We have to do it again sometime!