As we approach the start of the baseball season, I look back at my one big chance.
Like most young boys of my generation, I dreamed of playing in the major leagues. Roaming centerfield to make spectacular diving catches, hitting the grand slam in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. I knew the dream was possible since Bobby Valentine lived on my block, and he’d been drafted by the Dodgers. (He later became the Mets manager.)
Alas, reality set in during my teenage years. While I had a good arm and could hit, I was so slow you could time me with a calendar.
Still, baseball has always been a part of my life, and in the early 1980s, I scored a cool moonlighting job: working as the public address announcer for a minor league team. By day I was a TV reporter for the NBC affiliate. By night, I handled the player introductions for the Salem Redbirds, a Class-A team in the Carolina League. Several future major leaguers came through that year. Before every game, I’d go down to the opponents’ dugout to get the pronunciations of the players’ names right. One night this hulking player came over to me, who turned out to be future major leaguer Cecil Fielder. He pointed at my scorecard. “Man, please don’t call me Cee-cil.”
I actually got paid for this. Ten bucks a game and free dinner, which was always the same: two hot dogs, a soda and candy called a Goo-Goo bar. The free dinner repetition got old. So old, that I have not eaten a single hot dog since 1984. (Though that’s not even my longest food streak, considering I have not eaten at McDonald’s since 1976.)
Anyway, one night a reporter in the press box mentioned that the Braves were holding an open tryout in town. I thought it would make a good story if I gave it a shot, and my news director, a big baseball fan himself, agreed. I called the Braves media relations department and got the okay. I was told to check in with the scout before the tryout.
The big day arrived. I borrowed a uniform from the Redbirds to look official, but when I arrived I was hopelessly out of place. At the age of thirty, I was surrounded by a bunch of high school and college players.
I did a quick interview with the scout, who talked about his job and what he was looking for. Then he handed me a clipboard with a sheet of paper. “Sign this release just in case you get hit in the head with a line drive so you won’t sue us.”
The scout agreed to let me try out as a pitcher for a few batters. I had no desire to field hot shots at third base and my lack of speed would look embarrassing if I played the outfield. Besides, I could always throw a forkball, related to a split-finger pitch, since I have a big space between my index and middle finger.
So I headed to the mound after warming up, and a teenager stepped into the box. I went into a windup and threw a ball as hard as I could.
The kid swung and missed.
I tossed a few forkballs, and incredibly the kid struck out. So now I was feeling pretty good.
But next up was a college player built like a Coke machine with arms like Popeye.
I threw my best pitch, he swung, and the ball sailed a mile before it disappeared into the trees.
Just like that, I was back to being a reporter.
The scout let me face six batters. I actually struck out two but gave up four tape-measure home runs, one of which may still be going. When I was done the scout really got into character for our photographer, slowly marching out to the mound, shaking his head. He looked toward the imaginary bullpen and tapped his left arm. Then his right. Then he yelled, “Send me anybody!” Everyone laughed. I thanked him for the opportunity and a great experience.
When I got back to the station and looked at the videotape, reality set in. What I thought was a fast pitch that I’d thrown seemed awfully slow. My news director looked over my shoulder. “You were throwing lollipops up there.” It still made for a good feature.
The dream then morphed into hitting Powerball and buying a major league team, and now that I’m too old to play softball, it has evolved into a fantasy league.
But I have great memories of that year. When I wrapped up the season with the Redbirds, they gave me a ball autographed with the names of all the players, none of whom ever made the majors.
Still, I would have traded places with them. For a short time, they actually got to play baseball for a living.
Randy Tatano lives in Brewton and is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]m.