Amateur student pitcher competes in league of his own

by Tim Mosso | 11/25/03 6:00am

I was getting more flustered than Jeff Weaver in extra innings. Hitting the strike zone from 60 feet away is hard enough when nobody is watching, but I was looking down the barrel of a radar gun, the lens of a camera, and into the mitt of a kid who could catch better than I could throw.

My baseball season began in the bleacher seats at Fenway Park on opening day.

As a Yankee fan, I watched with relish as Pedro Martinez was shelled by the Baltimore Orioles.

Baseball season officially ended with the Marlins' impressive victory over the Yanks. Maybe the home team's loss left me with a sense of unfinished business. Maybe the mile high feeling following Aaron Boone's home run still hadn't abated.

Maybe I just wanted to avoid work. Whatever the reason, my appetite for baseball wasn't satisfied by the final series. If I couldn't watch baseball, I would play baseball.

Of course, I haven't played baseball since I was 11, so joining a team wasn't an option.

I had no equipment.

Reality narrowed my options rather dramatically.

At least baseballs are cheap. I bought one for $2.50 and set a course for the Dartmouth Baseball Office.

My pursuit of fastball glory led me to the office of Robert Whalen--head coach for Dartmouth baseball.

I introduced myself and asked if he had a radar gun.

Acting as my own agent, I tried to convince Coach Whalen to let me borrow his radar setup.

The coach asked if I was trying to join the team -- "Because a lot of guys come here and want to be part of the team." No, my delusions of grandeur weren't that grand.

He asked if I played in high school. Nope. He asked if I had ever played.

I assured him that my outfield years in little league were well spent finding lost change.

At this point in the conversation, Coach Whalen must have thought I was trying to steal his radar gun.

Ultimately, he offered me a one-off chance to throw a handful of shots past the beam. And the real college pitchers would be there. As I left the office, I thanked Coach Whalen and asked how fast the Dartmouth pitchers throw.

He responded that they range from mid-seventies to lower nineties. Ouch.

I woke up at 7 a.m. to meet the coach and his pitchers. My photographer, The Dartmouth's arts editor, Elise Dunphe '04 and Lindsay Barnes '06, were stuck in the rain thanks to the tree house code locks. The first laugh of the day was mine. The last would be theirs.

The warm-up alone was a humbling experience. While I took a lap of the gym and tossed the ball with Lindsay, the team pitcher on my right was hurling bullets straight into the catcher's mitt. These throws had absolutely no arc.

Inside the field house, the pitches slammed into the mitt with a reverberating clap.

I had never seen a pro or semi-pro pitcher work at such close range, and the experience was eye-opening. This guy had power and control. I crossed my fingers and hoped for just one.

When Coach Whalen arrived, so did the moment of truth. I entered the pitching nets and stepped atop the wooden pitcher's mound. My first throw was reasonably controlled.

But the next few sailed 10 feet over my catcher, varsity team catcher Shane Colegrove '07.

The coach tried to clock the highballs with the radar gun, pulling some very credible Nintendo Duck Hunt moves in the process.

Just as I was gaining control of the fastball, Coach Whalen called, "One more."

I knew that my controlled pitches had sacrificed power for accuracy, and neither my wild throws nor my rare on-mark shots had been terribly quick.

This was it; one more chance to break the speed limit.

I hurled the ball with all of the strength and accuracy that I could muster under the circumstances.

Coach Whalen and my newspaper posse cheered as 57 mph flashed across the radar readout.

It was a glorious end to my pitching career.

My baseball "season" ended on a high note. It's rare that any sports fan gets the opportunity to put himself in the player's shoes, and my 15 minutes of lame were both fun and educational.

The experience taught me new respect for the guys who play at the college level. Don't take them for granted -- go to the games and see how awesome an 85 mile per hour fastball looks at close range.

Of course, baseball is a team sport, so it is only right to thank the group that allowed me to nurture my inner Walter Mitty.

I can't thank Coach Whalen enough for putting his time, attention, bajillion dollar radar gun, and players at my disposal.

Catcher Shane Colegrove deserves a special thanks for literally bending over backwards to make my throws looks better then they were.

The Dartmouth Baseball Team pitchers have my thanks for letting me use their cage and waste their time.

They must have thought Coach Whalen was casting Major League IV.