Parents screamed at me. As a sixth grade pitcher, I had just unleashed a mind-of-its-own heater from the mound at one of the opposing ball players. It nailed him between his two scapulas squarely on his spinal cord. He lay lifeless on the ground. Minutes later an ambulance came roaring into the school parking lot.
"Get him outta here," the adults yelled. "He doesn't belong on the mound."
I stood wondering why the world had turned on me. All I had done was tried to throw a strike. The ball had gotten away from me. I was used to that feeling. This was how I rolled. I didn't mean to plunk the kid. After 10 minutes of resuscitation, the boy got carted to his team's bench, barely moving. The next batter gingerly stepped into the batter's box.
Twice his size in height and weight, I was bigger than everyone else in the game and throughout most developed nations. I wore a yellow Lacoste "alligator" shirt and team baseball pants. A few games earlier I had grown out of my jersey. Bigger ones weren't available in time for this game. All other players had game jerseys.
But I digress.
I chucked the ball hard back then-there were no radar guns at the games so no telling exactly how fast. The mound was maniacally close-about thirty-eight feet. Going against me, there was no need for the other team to bring bats to the games. I either struck them out, walked them, or bean-balled them. Never intentionally; usually a high heater up around the jersey letters.
Anyway, this kid was ready for anything. So was I.
I began my foreboding wind up. It was not about form. I concentrated on one idea: throw the ball as hard as I could and hope it ended up somewhere inside the backstop. As I let the pitch go, I got a bad feeling. Bang-I nailed that kid in the same spinal area as the first one. He went down in the same dirty area where the first kid had.
The ambulance guys opened their doors and came rushing out towards the field. The opposing parents started yelling at my coach, insisting I be yanked off the field. I was dangerous, they said, and they weren't going to allow their kids to be subjected to such abuse. I couldn't control my pitches, they said, and I had no business being on the mound anymore.
While all this happened, my third baseman fell to the ground. He couldn't control his laughter. Here we were in a heated baseball game scarred by controversy, pain, anger and Wild West pitching and he found the whole think hilarious.
As expected, my coach pulled me from the game. In anti-climactic fashion, we lost. The fireworks had taken place while I pitched.
But that loss happened in a regular season game. We faced those same kids in the playoffs. I found the feel of my heater and made just enough pitches within reasonable distance of the strike zone that I got the victory, which catapulted us into the championship game.
Coach gave me the ball again for that one. He didn't seem as concerned with the other parents getting mad if I plucked their players as he did having a big kid firing fast balls in a win-or-go-home situation. All the pressure fell on my shoulders to throw strikes and not hit anyone. From Opening Day until this moment not one of several hundred batters had put their bat on the ball. My modus operandi had been walks, strikeouts and bean balls. Nobody was to put their bat on the ball.
In the first inning, however, some tall kid stepped up. I hurled my gas high and down the middle. He cracked one so far it got lost in the woods in center field. He hit the ball so far it scared the community. I turned around and saw my centerfielder digging through bushes in search of the Lost in Space ball. For sure it wasn't playable.
The first guy to get his bat on the ball against me went woods. I didn't know what to think. Once the inning ended, my centerfielder came running in. Heading towards our bench, we converged around the first base line. He said: "Chuck, man, that dude rocked you."