Friday, July 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Baseball bruises ego, too

Leader sports editor

I always thought I had the worst amateur baseball career a guy can have, until I talked to my friend Mike Garrity.

Up until Garrity told me about his efforts with the Columbia Basin Junior College Hawks — more on that in a minute — I was sure no one had smelled up a ball field worse than me.

I wasn’t necessarily the worst player on my Little League team, but I certainly wasn’t the best, and that, unfortunately, was when my career peaked.

I know I played a lot of right field, which is where I was standing the time I bent over and ripped my pants while a girl I knew from school stood on the other side of the fence behind me. She got a good look and later so did the rest of the fans when I charged out of the dugout to take the field and fell on my face with my legs spread wide.

My Little League highlight was when I walked to drive in a winning run once, but that was because I rarely took the bat off my shoulder. I think I finished with one career hit.

In junior high we didn’t have cuts, so I was able to make the third string. Continuing a trend, I drew a walk as an eighth-grader in an inter-squad game, only todrift off moments later and get picked off by the seventh-grade pitcher.

I threw my hat in anger and all the parents in the stands laughed. Tough crowd.

I was definitely the worst player on my high school team but I became a darn good first-base coach. Based on my own bitter experience I made sure no one got picked off.

I was so bad a player that when I showed up sleepy and late for a Saturday morning doubleheader my coach just laughed. I was what we called in the Air Force “nonessential personnel.”

It’s a wonder I even like baseball after all that. But there I was at Dickey-Stephens Park the other night, watching the Arkansas

Travelers and listening to Garrity tell me about his own horrific experiences in the game.

Garrity has been a high school and college mascot, worked in sports information and administration at UALR and Florida International and has served as Travelers scorekeeper. He is currently the team’s data caster for Minor League Baseball.

He also took a stab at playing ball for Columbia Basin, located in Pasco, Wash. And after hearing his stories, I feel a little better about my career.

Garrity was the Hawk mascot during basketball at the two-year school and then attempted to suit up each spring with the baseball team. Well, he did suit up, but Garrity’s job was basically to serve as the media-relations man and keep the scorebook.

On a spring-break road swing in California, Garrity got a token at-bat in a one-sided game and suffered a critical injury.

“I’m left-handed but I bat right-handed,” Garrity said. “And I took a pitch off the elbow and it swelled up and I couldn’t keep score for the rest of the week.”

The next season Garrity sustained another injury, this time to his pride.

The new coach kept Garrity in uniform as the team’s sports-information guy. But Garrity was also useful as a left-handed batting practice pitcher on days Columbia Basin was facing a left-handed starter.

The Hawks were getting clobbered one Friday night and, with a doubleheader the next day, the coaches didn’t want to waste another pitcher, so Garrity offered to go in.

“They said ‘Really? You need to go warm up?’ ” Garrity said. “I said, ‘No, I’m good. I threw BP an hour ago. Just let me put on my spikes.’ Because I didn’t even bother to wear my cleats at the time.”

Garrity came on the middle of an at-bat to complete a walk that loaded the bases. Then he gave up a triple off the top of the fence 400 feet away and walked two more to load the bases again.

The coach made a visit and urged Garrity to calm down and just throw his best pitch.

“You don’t want that,” Garrity said.

“Why not?” The coach said.

“Because right now my best pitch is ball four,” Garrity said.

True to his word, Garrity walked in another run and was pulled for the left fielder, who used knuckleballs to get out of the inning.

“But really that is what led to my career,” Garrity said. “Keeping score, sending stories to the paper, sending stats to the conference.”

Luckily, there is more than one way for benchwarmers like us to get in the game.