A Season to Remember

by Jeff Pruneau

Updated Thursday January 8, 2015 by Lehigh Valley MSBL.

A SEASON TO REMEMBER….   by Jeff Pruneau

Statistically speaking, 2013 will probably be my all-time best season.  I had been temporarily transferred to Arizona for 14 months, and played ball in the beautiful dry heat for eleven straight months.  During the summer season, as soon as the MLB teams left their spring training camps, we played on all of the MLB complexes!  It will forever be difficult to play on a less than perfect field ever again!  Anyway, I led the league in complete games, innings pitched, and strikeouts.  I even got to know two former MLB pitchers who were playing in the league.  With one of them, we pitched the last 5 innings of shutout ball in the all-star game to “close-the-door” and seal the victory. 

Coming back east for 2014, it was tough to imagine how the season could possibly compare.  In one way, it exceeded 2013.  Yes, our Lehigh Valley MSBL Mudcat team won the 45 Division Championship, yet there was still something special that made the season terrific.

For a few years I had been double-rostered.  I would often pitch for the 45 team in the morning, and then go catch for the 35 team in the afternoon, or sometimes the other way around.  Finally one year I decided I would just stick to one team.

My son was a catcher in high school, and decided that he would play in the Lehigh Valley MSBL league with some of his high school friends who were on a team.  So when he came home from his first practice and asked if I ever thought of double rostering again, of course I thought he meant with the older teams.  I told him I was just going to stick with the one team and not play with the 35s.  He clarified his point when he said that his coach asked him if I’d be interested in playing for their team.  My first response was simply, “but I can’t play with the 20 year olds!”, to which he replied, “Yes you can, Dad; I know you can.”  Thus began the day of being double-rostered again.  I figured if I could just pitch one inning to my son sometime during the season, how cool would that be?!

Of course, most of our games were at overlapping times, or when they were at separate times, the fields were often far apart.  The first opportunity to play on his team came when I made it to his game on my way home from my game.  It worked out well since his field was on the way home.  I stopped by the field, and the coach suggested I pitch the 9th inning.  I’ve pitched thousands of innings over the years, but I was actually getting a bit nervous!  Anyway, because the game was running long, we reached the time limit and never did play the 9th inning.

I think it was the very next week that the field he was playing at was again on my way home from my game.  I had just caught the entire game for my primary team, except for the last two innings.  Then, I had pitched those last two innings.  I’ve told my coach several times that it’s easier to catch after pitching but not the other way around, however this wasn’t the first nor last time he tried to orchestrate the game plan this way.  Anyway, when I stopped by my son’s game, it was entirely just to watch.  There was no way I was going to play.  Well, they had a doubleheader and the coach told me that the pitcher for the second game was running late and asked if I could start it.  I really didn’t think I could, but my mind said I could, regardless of what my body said!  I tried to loosen up a little and was surprised that I felt okay enough to give it a shot. 

I had one problem though.  It seemed that I was having trouble throwing fastballs for strikes, yet I could throw sliders for strikes.  So, you go with what works, right?!  I probably threw 80% sliders as I often shook-off my son’s sign for the fastball.  A few times he came to the mound for a quick conference, and I had to enjoy the moment as I thought how cool it was to be playing on the same team as my kid!  It was a little odd though as I stood on the highest part of the mound, and I still had to look upwards at my son who at six foot three has outgrown me by a couple of inches.  My main concern before the first pitch was that if I did poorly, the “kids” would get frustrated with the coach for letting “the old guy” pitch!  However, it was great how they were cheering me on and supporting me.  A couple of plays stood out in my mind from that game.  One batter hit a nice shot into the right-center field gap.  I thought for sure it was going to be a double, but as I turned around it was great to see the speedy center fielder chase it down effortlessly for the out!  I thought to myself, “hmmmm, I could get used to having that sort of fielding behind me!”  On another play, a ground ball was hit deep into the hole at short.  I just knew it would be an infield hit, yet the shortstop fielded it and threw out the runner!  It sure was great playing with the young athletes!  Finally the pitcher who was supposed to start the game arrived after the 5th inning, and I gladly let him finish the game.  Yes, we did win!

A week or two later my regular team had a bye-week, and my son’s team (okay, it was my team too) had a double-header.  I didn’t think I’d play but I went to the game anyway to help anyway I could.  To my surprise the coach asked me to pitch one of the games.  I actually tried to talk him out of it, saying that he should let one of the kids pitch.  He insisted, and asked if I wanted the first game or the second game.  I chose the second game because I didn’t want to feel like I was preventing one of their “main” pitchers from starting the first game.  I pitched well.  Going into the bottom of the 7th we were losing but only 2-0.  We almost won the game, but at least tied it.  I was out of the game as we went into extra innings.  We had a few shots to win it, but it didn’t go our way.

The only other time I had a chance to play with them was once again after one of my games, and they had a doubleheader, so I stopped by their field on my way home.  I got there just as they finished their first game.  For the second game, the coach told me that he had a lot of players who had to leave so he was glad I was there.  When I asked him how many he had he said including me he had ten.  He asked if I would play first base, and I told him to play his nine guys, and I’ll just watch.  He said he would put me in as a DH.  I came to the plate three times.  My first time up I had a line drive to third that the third baseman made a nice play on.  My second time up, I walked.

My last time up was in the last inning with the score tied at 0-0.  I was hit by the pitch, so we had the leadoff and potential winning run on base.  After a couple of pitches, the next batter hit the ball into left-center field.  I took off and I knew it was an easy double and that I could coast into third.  As I approached third the coach started to hold me up, but then changed his mind and waved me home.  The first thought that entered my mind was, “Are you crazy?!  First to home on a double against these “kids” with their good arms?!”  My next thoughts in those three to four seconds as I raced home included such things as:  where’s the ball?; uh oh this could be the winning run; wow look at the rest of the team standing, cheering and yelling as I run home!; and also, damn, when’s the last time I even had to slide?!

As I got closer to the plate, I could see the catcher’s eyes getting big, and I was relieved to see him start to reach to his right for the incoming ball.  I slid across the plate safely, and I was greeted by the cheering team with high fives, hugs, and slaps on the back!

So what does 2015 bring?  Yes, I’m double rostered again.