Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Rocket

 This was a story that I wrote fifteen or sixteen years ago. It was originally called " Fast Serve" then I changed the title to "Rocket"
I edited the story today for the first time since 1999-2000.
The goal is to get this on the Big Screen. Or at least a small one.

ROCKET by Fredo Weiland

It was a sweltering June afternoon .The bleacher was packed with whining kids and parents attentively watching the baseball game. The team at bat was losing 4-1 in the sixth and final inning.
The bases were loaded and there were two outs .The young pitcher took his windup and unloaded at the batter.
As the pitch crossed the plate the batter swung and hit the ball straight up in the air .All the fielders converged on the popup. The runners were furiously rounding the bases .As the ball dropped quickly a group of arms raised up and little hands and gloves  reached out for the ball .The ball bobbled in the air between these gloves. All the fielders fell to the ground. The runners had all crossed home plate and the umpire removed his mask and walked toward the pile of little infielders on the ground. The umpire was a burly man about 6'2" tall. As he removed the players from the pileup he saw the ball in a baseball cap .He raised his right hand and spoke, “No catch, no catch the Bearcats win 5-4".

All the parents on the losing team's bleacher converged on the umpire. Fathers smoking cigars, mothers with babies in their arms. They were all screaming at him. As he gathered up the bases and balls they did not leave his side. One particularly irate mother was kicking dirt on him .A toddler was imitating the woman and also kicking dirt on the umpire.

The umpire had enough and turned around to spew his venom, “What is wrong with you people. Get a life! Look at the example you're setting for these kids. You people scare me .You're like a pack of wild dogs, all you can do is whine and bark and cry. And you scream at me: hey ump you suck,hey ump are you friggin blind?,hey ump is the other team payin you off ?,hey ump are you doing all the moms on the other team ?You people sicken and disgust me you're all a bunch of LOSERS!".

The group of people surrounding the umpire looked at him with their mouth's wide open in disbelief. The umpire looked out toward the bleachers and called out ,"Lefty ,c’mon son let's go home ".A young burly boy started to walk toward his dad , the umpire. As the umpire hoisted the duffel bag containing the bases he clutched at his chest. He spoke "Is there a doctor in the house ? .Five assorted men and women said, “Yes" at about the same moment. The Umpire collapsed and many people looked over him including his son Lefty who spoke softly, “Please help my dad,please",Lefty cried.

Seven years later

A large young man is sitting on the bench watching his team massacre another school in a high school baseball game. The score is 14-1 and it's the bottom of the seventh inning. The coach is scratching his chin as he looks at the scoreboard.

 The coach shouts, “Lefty Hilton get your butt and your glove over here now you're in the game ".The burly young man gets up off the bench and walks past the other players accidentally stepping on a few toes along the way causing a couple players to scream in pain as the 250 pound young man's weight descends on their toes. The coach calls out to the umpire for a timeout.

The umpire walks over and signals for the timeout. Lefty walks onto the field and the pitcher looking dejected hands Lefty the ball and speaks, “Take it easy on these guys".

Lefty smirks and walks to the mound. He is going to take a few practice pitches .He takes his windup and unleashes a screaming fastball that is coming right at the umpires head.

The coach mutters to himself, “now if he could only figure out how to find the goddamn plate”. The batter cautiously approaches the plate and the catcher is laughing as the batter hesitates. The umpire looks at the batter and says, “c’mon boy he ain't gonna bite ".

The catcher looks up at the batter and speaks, “The last time he pitched three guys on the other team went to the hospital. But don't worry his control has gotten a lot better .He only hits batters in the head these days. The batter looks at the catcher with an expression of disbelief. .".The ump screams, "batter up”. Lefty takes his windup and the batter looks on in terror. The pitch is in the mid 90 mile an hour range. As the pitch approaches, the batter closes his eyes and crouches down .The ball hits the outstretched bat and falls to the ground .The catcher picks up the ball and throws it to first base for the out.

The coach looks out onto the field and shouts ,"One more to go boys".

Lefty takes his windup and unloads a pitch that is headed straight at the batters head .The batter is swinging wildly at the ball .The ball misses the batter and heads straight towards a black crow sitting on the fence .The crow screams as the ball approaches and barely gets out of the way. Lefty’s coach says to himself, “As long as he don't kill nobody I'll be happy”. On the next pitch the batter ducks and the ball hits the tip of the bat and pops into Lefty's glove for the third out.

A cheer erupts from the bench as Lefty runs off the mound and gets swarmed by his team on the way to the dugout..

After the celebration ends Lefty is greeted by his Uncle Ted as he heads toward the locker room. Uncle Ted speaks, “Good job Robby, I mean Lefty, nobody had to call 911 today. A day without causing bodily harm to your fellow man is a day you can be proud of .You know it's too damn bad this team doesn't appreciate your talent. What you need is a sport where you can rely on your wits .Use your power without having to rely on eight other guys to do their part. Not that there's anything wrong with team sports .But you son you're a different breed, a mutant breed.”

As they continue walking they pass by a poster that reads “Win 500 DOLLARS Enter the Pro Tennis Fast Serve Contest, if you can serve up the heat you can win COLD CASH"

They fail to notice the poster and keep walking until they get to Uncle Ted's truck.

Uncle Ted and Lefty approach Lefty's house in Ted's pickup truck when a jet comes screaming over their heads about 100 feet above the ground. Uncle Ted screams out ,"Incoming" ,and puts his hands over his head.

Then they hear a large thud hit the back of the truck.

Uncle Ted screams,"Goddamn blue ice hit my truck again nephew, that stuff is so disgusting: makes me want to puke".

Lefty shakes his head and laughs ,"Uncle ,at least you don't have to live next to Runway 13 and hear jets screaming over your head 24 hours a day. Have blue ice falling on your driveway every single day of your life. I wish we could move away from this toxic hellhole.

Maybe even to New Jersey, it’s cleaner in the Garden State".

Uncle Ted shakes his head and has a faraway dreamy look in his eyes,"Ahh New Jersey, Shangri La, someday nephew someday".

As Lefty get's out of the truck a jet screams over his head and he instinctively ducks so he won't get hit. In the distance Uncle Ted screams ,"Incoming".

Lefty enters his house and a young boy and girl are chasing each other with their arms outstretched .The boy screams out,"I'm a 747 vroom ". The girl shouts,"I'm a Lear jet!

That’s carrying movie stars and Cheerios". Lefty laughs and corrects the girl,

"It'sCeo's! ,Chief Executive Officers , Martha". Martha makes a face and says,"Chief Executive Ossifers,big deal!".

Another boy is sitting in front of a TV reading a comic book titled, "Romeo vs. Juliet" .The TV is on the local 24 hour News Channel .The reporter is dressed in a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt. He speaks,"This is Alex Andrews live at the site of the 5th Annual-Harbor Village Pro Tennis Smashfest that benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs in the Metro area.

I'm here with the Swanson  brothers to introduce the Smashfest fast serve contest that will pay 500 dollars to the winning contestant, amateurs only folks. So guys what is the fastest serve that you can crank off your racquets?"

 Cooke Swanson speaks first, “Is that as a lefty or a righty Alex?"

Alex has a surprised look ,"Wait a second you can serve as a lefty or a righty? Folks can you imagine if a pitcher in baseball could throw his heat with both hands?"

Gorton Swanson speaks up ,"Cooke can switch hands but I'm the one with the heat ,watch this !"

Gorton goes into his windup and hits a booming serve that registers 130 on the speed board that the camera focuses in on.

Alex picks up a racquet and starts to speak as he prepares to hit a serve, “Well there it is folks booming serves with the Swanson Brothers at the Harbor Village Pro Tennis Smashfest this Saturday at 10 AM. is the fast serve contest. Racquets will be provided courtesy of Dunlop"

Alex grits his teeth and hits a serve with all his might as the camera focuses in on the speed board it registers 57 MPH. The anchors in the studio are laughing at Alex's serve.

The female anchor speaks, “You really smoked that one in Alex , looks like you could barely get a speeding ticket on that serve."

Lefty stares at the TV and scratches his head , " Tennis , I always thought that was a sport for wimps. But hey if they're gonna pay me 500 bucks to throw a fastball then I'll be a wimp for a day". Lefty then looks out towards the garage and speaks to the boy reading the comic book,"Hey Russell what did you do with that old racquet we used to kill bugs with?"

Russell looks up at Lefty and speaks ,"Well actually it wasn't to kill them it was to trap them to see how they metamorphasize based on their captive environment taking into account factors such as light,noise,smell and a diet of Twinkies and Mountain Dew. It proved to be a breakthrough study .It had serious enviro-political consequ....".

Lefty was losing patience,"The racquet Russell ! Where is the racquet Mr.BrainCramp?"

Russell scratched his chin, “It’s on the bottom left shelf behind the cannisters containing blue ice from Halloween and The 4th of July. I’m studying the sugar /fat ratio in the diet of airline passengers during the peak periods of aberrational food intake."

As Lefty walked away he passed his Mom who was sitting at a computer .

Lefty spoke, “Mom are you sure Russell wasn't accidentally left at our doorstep, cause that kid ain't normal he's a freak of nature"."Mrs.Hilton spoke, “Robert, um ….Lefty, I have five wonderful beautiful children all unique in their own way. The twins are very intuitive and always full of energy ,your sister Sarah is a talented singer and dancer, your brother Russell has a great mind possibly the mind of a future Nobel prizewinner, and you um Lefty you are fun to be around and could be something someday". Mrs.Hilton looks up and whispers, “Something dear lord anything".

Robby made a face and spoke, “Mom I could be a famous ballplayer one day. Coach says I've got the arm it's just that I can't seem to find the plate."

Lefty's mom laughed ,"Your father may he rest in peace would have wanted you to be a doctor .I would settle for less ."

Lefty shook his head ,"Mom ,the sight of blood gets me sick to my stomach. Besides Uncle Ted said I was a mutant breed ."

Mrs.Hilton smirked, “Oh yea Uncle Ted said that?".

Lefty walked away and waved his hand, “I gotta go find that old tennis racquet in the garage .There's some contest for hitting a tennis ball as fast as you can.First prize is 500 bucks and I think I've got a pretty good shot to win."

Mrs.Hilton shook her head,"Rober- ….. uh Lefty you never picked up a tennis racquet before in your life and you are going to win the contest". Lefty nodded ,"That's right mom I'm gonna hit that ball so damn fast it'll break the speed gun .I better go take a few practice swings. Call me when it's time for dinner ".

Mrs.Hilton cleared her throat,"Ahem , you mean I should ring you when your feast is served master Robert?  If you want to eat then I expect the table to be set in exactly 17 minutes. So run along and practice your tennis cause now you have only 16 minutes and 54 seconds".

Lefty hustled outside and into the garage. He dug behind the cannisters labeled Blue Ice.He picked out a Wilson T2000 steel tennis racquet. He took a few practice swings in the air.He then went to a bin that was full of different kinds of balls .He grabbed a tennis ball and a super bouncy ball. He went outside the garage and threw the super ball up in the air and took a vicious swing and the ball disappeared into the air. Over at the airport a man was yelling at his wife ,kids and the baggage handler. The man had his mouth wide open and the super ball flew directly into his mouth and covered the hole. His kids ,wife and, the baggage handler all laughed.

Lefty picked up the tennis ball tossed it in his hands a few times and took aim at the ball with a vicious serve that went straight through the garage window .Inside the garage was the sound of stuff getting knocked over and a cat making a loud screeching meow.
As Lefty approached the Harbor Village Park he spotted many people dressed in tennis wear .It seemed as if everyone was heading towards the makeshift stadium that was the site of the pro tennis Smashfest and the fast serve contest .Lefty was dressed in a pair of cutoff jeans and a tank top shirt with a picture of Bob Marley, the reggae singer.
Lefty was holding his T-2000 racquet and singing the National Anthem .When he finished the song he made the sound of a crowd cheering and held up his arms.
Lefty then walked up to a desk that read “Fast Serve Contest Registration”. Lefty looked over a release form that required the signature of a parent or guardian if under 18.Lefty walked away for a minute and signed the form with a scribbly signature and then he handed it to a lady at the desk. The lady quickly glanced over his entry and then looked up at Lefty and spoke, "Well Mr. Hilton you will have 5 chances to serve into the correct box . Speed matters but accuracy is more important. If you need a demo racquet they will be provided courtesy of Dunlop Sporting Goods. Good Luck Mr.Hilton!".
Lefty nodded and said,"Thank You". Lefty heard a stereo playing the songs from the Jock Jams CD .There was a group of guys from Lefty's high school tennis team that were standing in a semi-circle with shirts that read Mead Valley High Muskrats .There was a tennis racquet insignia on each shirt .

Lefty approached the group of tennis players who were mostly tall and wiry guys. All the tennis players stared at Lefty with a somewhat surprised expression. A blonde guy spoke up," Hilton am I seeing a vision here .I thought you said tennis is only for squeaky voiced sissies.So what's the deal ?"
Lefty laughed and shook his head,"Yea I did say that but I heard about this fast serve contest and I decided to put aside my pride and self-respect for the sake of cold hard cash.
I know I can serve faster than any of you beanpole geeks.”
One guy in the group looked at Lefty with a serious expression and shook his head ," But there is one problem. Accuracy !" , he shouted ," I don't think you can get the ball into the box ."
The whole team chanted in unison, “Can’t get it in the Box!  In the Box! Can’t get it in THE BOX!”

Lefty grimaced and spoke up ," Oh that's gotta be tough. Hitting the ball into a box that's the size of my car .That's a lot tougher than throwing a baseball over a plate the size of a medium pizza . I don't think I can handle that”.

A curly haired guy mumbled to himself," Tougher than hitting a batter in the head ".

Lefty looked at him coolly, “What was that you said?".

The curly haired haired guy spoke ," It's uh gonna be tough facing you head to head".

Lefty walked away and entered the stadium where he showed his entry form to an usher and was shown a seat in the 5th row of the contestants seating. The Swanson brothers were hitting against each other on the court and doing trick shots between the legs and behind the back .Then over the sound system a deep voice announced, “Welcome to the Harbor Village Smashfest Fastserve contest .All contestants please enter courtside in an orderly fashion .Remember five serves per contestant .No racquet throwing or foul language will be tolerated .Good luck everyone ".

As the servers took turns aiming at the service box many tries were in but very slow or very fast but way out.

Lefty approached the baseline and a ball was tossed to him by a ball girl who was no taller than his waist. Lefty took the ball and bounced it twice before he tossed it up and took a huge swing at the ball .The ball flew over the other end of the court and hit a chair that created a domino effect on all the chairs around it causing them all to be knocked over.

The announcer spoke,"I bet you can't do that again ". Lefty raised his hand in acknowledgement to the announcer . He smiled, gritted his teeth  went into a stretch baseball windup and took his next serve which was 85 mph and in the box . His next  serve approached the 98mph mark putting him 12 mph short of the record . On his fourth serve he tried  with a running start like in volleyball. As he got up to the baseline to release his serve and jump his foot slid on the white thick baseline and he sort of slid stomach first towards the net. The tiny ball girl came over to see if he was okay. He made a strange noise like one a cartoon character would make when they got hurt.
Lefty stood up with the hand of the tiny ball girl out stretched to help him.
He slowly walked back to the baseline.
Then he had a flashback to his Uncle Ted saying,"you are a mutant breed, a mutant breed."

 Lefty looked at the ball and the box and unloaded a serve with a loud scream that was clocked at 127 MPH.
The announcer was half dozing off when he heard Lefty's scream and the ball sounding like a rocket pass by his ears, "Goddamn!  That was a Rocket at 122 mph putting Mr. Booby Lily Hurtgroin in the lead ." Lefty looked over at the announcer and cleared his throat , "The name is Hilton , Robert LEFTY Hilton ". The announcer shook his head," I'm gonna call you the Rocket "..

No other contestant could match Lefty's serve especially the guys on the tennis team at Lefty's school. They all looked on with surprise and disgust as he was presented the check for 500 dollars and a large trophy.

The announcer patted Lefty on the back , "Congratulations young man on winning the Harbor Village Smashfest serving contest .Next weekend you are invited to see Lefty the Rocket serve and play points against the top professionals in an exhibition before the finals of the Smashfest pro tournament .That's next  Sunday at 1pm .Lefty the Rocket versus the pros".

Lefty was looking at the announcer and could not believe what he was hearing .All the guys on the tennis team at Lefty's school were laughing at the idea of Lefty playing tennis against the world's best pro's . Lefty had never played tennis before in his life .As Lefty walked out of the stadium he was in a daze .He could not fathom playing tennis against pros .He probably couldn't even play against the guys on the tennis team .Then he spotted a table that had a big sign that read "ITS" Instant Tennis Skills .Sign up now and learn how to play in six hours .Lefty grabbed the flyer and studied it carefully .The guys on the tennis team walked over and looked at the flyer .The curly haired guy spoke, "That is not going to help you .However for a small fee I will teach you the basics in 5 lessons ".

Lefty smirked," I'd buy a book on tennis before I listen to you guys.”
At that moment a very attractive woman walked up to the table and turned to Lefty ,"Can I sign you up for my course honey ,I think you'll love it ".She winked at Lefty .

Lefty shook his head, "What the hey as long as you are the teacher I'm in. Too bad my friends here are already expert players otherwise they could take the class also."

The tennis team guys looked on with envy as Lefty signed up and laughed with the attractive tennis instructor.
Lefty was in bed with the night light on and reading a book. Every few lines he would pause and make some sort of body movement as if he were swinging something. Then he reached out with his right hand to point at the air and then he would swing as if he were throwing a punch .After one of these punch like moves the book fell to the ground and his swing knocked over the night light. Lefty fumbled to find the light and when he flipped it back on a sock was stuck to his head from static cling .He picked up the book titled "Tennis in a Hurry ". He read two more pages and then fell into a sound sleep .He started to dream that he was in the stadium of the tennis tournament on a pitcher’s mound and his whole team was on the field/court. A batter approached the plate in a tennis skirt and it was the very attractive woman tennis instructor from the ITS table .Lefty looked at the catcher for his sign and threw the pitch .The ball came straight at Lefty and hit him in the eyes .He fell to the ground with a thud .The woman stood over him and shook her head, “I think this guy needs TRT".

There was a murmur in the group surrounding Lefty until the catcher raised his hand, “What is TRT ?".

The woman smirked, “Tongue resuscitation technique". With that she started to kiss Lefty who had a big smile on his face .In reality ,Lefty's cat Maxine was kissing him.
Lefty woke up and screamed loudly but he could not be heard by anyone in his house because at that exact moment a jet was flying directly over the roof of their house .Lefty pushed the cat off the bed and fell back asleep.
The next afternoon Lefty stuffed his books into his backpack and ran down the steps at school and barely made it onto the crosstown bus that would take him to his tennis class.
The woman that signed up Lefty for the class wore a nametag that read, “Hi my name is Jennifer" and she greeted every person as they entered the court enclosure. Jennifer also handed every student a racquet courtesy of Dunlop Sporting Goods.

Jennifer then spoke, “Our first lesson is called the high five. Can anyone give me a high five?”. A short, older woman in her early seventies reached up to Jennifer who was 8 inches taller and slapped her five .Jennifer clapped ,"Now using your racquet give the ball a high five ".The older woman obliged using Jennifer's technique and almost hit Jennifer in the leg.

After this Jennifer instructed the students to form two single file lines

All the students took turns doing the high five technique .Jennifer kept all the students moving very fast and after 7-8 minutes of this they were out of breath .All the students took a minute to drink some water .After this they were introduced to backhand high fives. After doing the same 7-8 minute routine the students need another rest .After the water break Jennifer introduced the forehand groundstroke by dropping and lightly stroking the ball. Jennifer emphasized to lightly stroke the ball .Five of the students achieved their objective. Lefty was not among those five .Lefty's stroke caused the ball to get jammed into the top of the chain link fence surrounding the court. This was not bad considering the other two students in the class simultaneously hit a man drinking out of a brown paper bag on a nearby park bench .The man raised his fist and yelled out something that was gibberish. The class laughed and then Jennifer explained to keep the wrist firm, “No spaghetti wrists guys, keep it firm and stroke lightly in the center of the racquet."

On the next try six of eight students including Lefty succeeded in the drop stroke .The other two shots left the court enclosure. On the next try all eight shots were placed in the court close to the target that Jennifer had set up in the middle of the court. Jennifer divided the class into two lines in the mid-section of the court and gently tossed balls to the student’s one at a time.

Throughout the remainder of the course all the students gradually gained skills and confidence. They were able to hit the ball back and forth at a slow speed. Jennifer congratulated all the students on their progress and invited them to join her to watch the pros play at the Harbor Village pro tennis event ,"There is a clinic on Sunday at twelve given by myself and some top touring pros such as the Swanson brothers .You can register with me today .At one o'clock there is an exhibition featuring the Swanson

brothers, and Manny “The Slammer” BamRoni  a leading senior tour player; and the winner of the fast serve contest Robert Hilton ".Lefty's face turned beet red and he coughed loudly .

Jennifer looked at Lefty and laughed "Robert , are you ready to face the pros?”. All the students looked surprised and turned to face Lefty as his face maintained it's red color. Lefty explained how he was a baseball pitcher and that enabled him to serve very fast. He asked if anyone would help him practice for his big match .The elderly women was the first to volunteer .

Lefty and his new practice partner Ester Choi set up two practice sessions after Lefty's baseball practice. Ester was a big help to Lefty because she reminded him of the fundamentals. Lefty was getting nervous as the big showdown with the pros got closer.

Ester advised Lefty that he needed a partner who hit a little harder. Maybe he should call one of the guys on the tennis team. A few houses down the street from Lefty's house there was a girl who was a serious tennis player. Lefty remembered seeing her leave the house early every morning when he went out to get the morning paper. Her name was Ivy Bucca and she would leave her house wearing a warm-up suit and carrying a tennis racquet bag.

After Ester's advice Lefty stopped by Ivy's house on the way home .There was no way he would call one of the guys on the school team for practice .Lefty had his pride ; he also was somewhat attracted to Ivy. A short stocky man smoking a fat cigar answered the door at Ivy's house. Lefty stammered and then he got out the words, “Is I-I-Ivy uuuhhhhh  HomeSirrrr ?".

The man raised his eyebrows and looked Lefty up and down .He walked out the door and leaned over the step and spit out some cigar juice, “Step  inside Hilton I'll go get my daughter”. Lefty shook his head, “Thanks Mr.Bucca".Mr.Bucca yelled out ,"Ivy Iveee you got a visitor”. Ivy was upstairs studying while practicing different yoga postures. Ivy closed her book and descended the stairs .She looked a little confused when she saw Lefty. Although they would pass each other in school and on the street and say hello their conversations never went beyond that. Lefty explained his situation to Ivy .About entering the contest and the smart ass guys on the tennis team .About his tennis class and his practice partner Ester Choi.About his upcoming match against the pros at the Harbor Village Smashfest .Lefty explained that he needed a practice session with a tougher player and he thought of Ivy.

Ivy agreed to do it under one condition .That she could attend the match and meet with the pros .Lefty agreed to her condition and so they arranged to practice the next day.

Lefty met Ivy at her house the next morning at 6:15 am .Lefty was half asleep and carrying the racquet given to him at his tennis class.

Ivy led the way to the neighborhood park .Lefty was wearing his gym shorts and NY Yankees T-shirt . Ivy took six tennis balls out of her bag and bounced one on her racquet. Lefty walked to one side of the court .Ivy took the other side and hit the ball to Lefty . Lefty bunted the ball back and Ivy hit a huge shot that whizzed right by Lefty.
Lefty and Ivy repeated this scenario a few times until Ivy told Lefty to get his racquet back earlier. Then there was more hitting back and forth with Ivy dominating the rallies until Ivy abruptly stopped the ball with her racquet .She suggested that they serve and play points. Ivy hit serves with heavy spin that gave Lefty much trouble .Lefty hit hard fastball serves that Ivy blocked back as fast as Lefty hit them. Lefty asked Ivy about her spin serves and she gave Lefty a few pointers. Lefty added some spin to his serve and it gave him better control .Ivy looked at her watch and realized it was 8am and she was hungry .Lefty joined her at the bagel shop and he treated her to breakfast. As they ate Ivy talked about her tennis career. How she could have played on the boys team .How she made it to the finals of the state championships. How she dreamed of playing pro tennis someday. How Lefty had the potential to be a very good player. Lefty said his dream was to be a pro baseball player .He asked Ivy if he belonged on the same court with the pros.Ivy said he should play within himself not get too fancy. Lefty told Ivy about how he wanted his family to move away from the airport to a quieter place.

Sunday came faster than Lefty had expected and he slept very little on Saturday night. During the night Lefty had a dream that a pro tennis player was facing him across a net .The ball hit by the pro came at him so fast it turned into a jet airplane and was headed straight at Lefty's head. Lefty was swinging madly at this ball/jet in his sleep and knocked himself out of bed onto the floor. When he woke up he was sweating profusely. He fell asleep on the floor in the fetal position.

The trip to Harbor Village was an interesting one indeed .Uncle Ted was driving very fast and talking a mile a minute, “I knew you had a calling nephew .I knew you would have a shot at the big leagues."

Lefty raised his eyebrows, “It’s just an exhibition Uncle. After today its back to being Lefty Hilton, last string pitcher for the Mead Valley Muskrats" .

Ted shook his head ,"Lefty it's just like hittin' big in Vegas. You can take your winnings, drink your complimentary drink and hide out in your little safe world out there in Airportville hell or you can parlay it into a bigger payoff ."

"What in the hell are you talking about ", Lefty shouted.

"College my boy, college scholarship for hitting a little fuzzy ball a four year free ride ", Uncle Ted put out his hands.

Lefty smiled and shook his head," You are deranged, Is your metal plate picking up signals from that spy satellite again? I can't play college tennis .I could barely beat Ester Choi and she's pushin’ eighty years old ."

Ted sighed,"just leave it to me boy I'll take care of the whole deal as long as you don't screw up out there today."

Lefty started fake crying to himself .When they arrived at the tournament site. Lefty passed Ivy and called her by the wrong name ……Monica.

" Monica ,ahem it's Ivy ! .Earth to Lefty do you read me? A little nervous are we about the big match ?" Ivy spoke sarcastically.

Lefty gave her a frantic  look ," No I'm a little worried that my Uncle Ted doesn't do something totally freaky and somehow hook me into one of his bizarre schemes. But nervous about the match? Hell no! .I'm about to play  a sport I only took up a few days ago in front of hundreds of people with three guys who earn millions of dollars a year playing professionally. Nervous?  Are you kidding me? I'm cool as a cucumber cool as a freakin' cucumber ....that's been sittin’ in a batch of bitter vinegar and lactic acid fermenting into one of the most sour pickles that ever made contact with your taste buds. I’m a wreck a nervous bloody wreck !" He put his head in between his hands as he leaned over and his waste.
Ivy looked Lefty up and down and shook her head and walked away laughing as hard as she could and mumbled to herself, “Now he knows how I feel before every match I play."
Lefty walked into the tournament office to report for his match .People were shooting by him in every direction .Phones were ringing and fax machines were humming. Lefty stood in one spot for five minutes with his mouth wide open and his left index finger extended as if to make a point of getting somebody's attention but it was not going to  work . Lefty then cleared his throat and cupped his hands together on either side of his mouth and started to shout,"My name is Lefty Hilton .I was invited to play an exhibition match with three pros today on the stadium court at one o'clock if anyone in this office can help I would appreciate it otherwise continue doing your jobs and I will just stand here wasting away until I am carted off by the building's security personnel."

All faces in the office had turned to stare at Lefty. Some people had their mouths wide open in amazement at this boy shouting at them .After Lefty ended his verbal spew everyone resumed what they were doing except one young man who emerged from behind a stack of folders he was carrying in both hands. “So you're Lefty Hilton ,the Rocket .I'm Mitch Carroll , player liason.I am here to help you get through the day with smooth sailing. First stop is the locker room to meet the players and pick up some clothes, shoes, and racquets that have been provided for you courtesy of some of our sponsors .Then it's on to the training room where a pre match stretch routine conducted by our tour trainer Bill Green .Then it's onto the court for a short press conference and warm-up .Then as you know it's match time .Any last requests before you are thrown into the world of professional tennis for the next few hours ?"

Lefty nodded stumbled backwards and hurled into the closest trash can he could find and without missing a beat looked up at Mitch and spoke cheerfully, “Buddy you know where I can get a bagel or something. A piece of bread maybe or a cracker that would be really nice right about now.Y'know it would be really very helpful to me ".

Lefty then remembered his promise to Ivy ." I promised my friend that she could meet the pros .Her name is Ivy Bucca."

Mitch nodded ,"Ivy Bucca she's a good local player . Sure no problem ."

Lefty was impressed that Mitch knew who Ivy was.

Mitch and Lefty walked into the lockerroom and found an empty locker for Lefty to use.

From a room off to the side of the lockers a man was screaming .Lefty had a look of serious concern on his face and motioned to Mitch that maybe he should go to see if the man nee
Mitch laughed , " Don't worry that's “The Slammer” BamRoni getting physical therapy on his shoulder.He feels like screaming helps to release the pain . "

After Lefty had his racquets together in his new bag he went to the snack table and found some fig newton’s  and a can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale .

The trainer walked over and introduced himself to Lefty. “My name is Joe Green and I am here to help you improve your flexibility ."

The first stretch involved touching the toes .Lefty was very stiff and his hands went no further than his knees.
After fifteen minutes of going through a routine of different stretches Lefty was very relaxed and ran in place very fast and beat his chest like a gorilla .

Mitch then rejoined Lefty and brought him into the stadium where the audience was sparse and showed Lefty to his chair . Lefty spotted Ivy and motioned for her to come down to the court .Mitch then introduced Lefty and Ivy to the Swanson brothers and Manny  BamRoni . Ivy was flirting with Cooke  Swanson and The Slammer was giving Lefty a few tips on where to stand and what to do .

The announcer on the P.A. stystem introduced the four players to the small but growing crowd .The pros received scattered applause but when the announcer introduced Lefty the audience went wild .As the players took to the court ball boys and girls handed balls to Lefty and the three pros.Lefty was so nervous that on his first shot he hit a cameraman in the head .Lefty then noticed that TV reporter Alex Andrews was on the court and heading for the umpire's chair .Alex climbed up into the chair and tested the microphone .Alex then brought all players up to the chair introduced himself and shook hands with each player.

Lefty and Manny  won the toss and elected to serve . Manny served the first game and the Swanson brothers played to Lefty as if they were taking it easy on him .Murray hit a high ball to Lefty that he swung at and missed but Manny right behind Lefty and smacked the ball for a winner. Eventually it was Lefty's turn to serve and he he did some circular motions with his arm as if it were an airplane propeller. Gorton Swanson was standing on the other side of the net not really paying attention when Lefty tossed the ball up and unloaded a serve that was headed straight at Gorton’s groin .Before Gorton had a chance to react the ball hit him squarely in the his groin and he had a look of shock on his face and he fell to the ground groaning .The other players converged on Gorton to check on his condition . Joe Green ,the tour trainer appeared with an ice pack and helped Gorton into a chair . It appeared as if the match was over when Lefty looked over at Ivy and motioned her to the court .Lefty suggested that Ivy fill in as a replacement for Gorton who was obviously incapacitated.

Ivy was introduced to the crowd and the match restarted.

Ivy was ecstatic that she was playing on the court with the touring pros .

Lefty was relaxed because Ivy was playing.
Manny was a real showman and could be compared to a tennis version of a Harlem Globetrotter .

In the crowd Uncle Ted was talking to a coach at Central Coast University about Lefty's skills as an athlete and potential as a member of a team at Central Coast University.

Cooke and Ivy pulled out the victory in a close tiebreaker .

After the match Uncle Ted rushed courtside holding a piece of paper in his hand.

The paper was a date for meeting with the baseball coach at Central Coast to discuss scholarship possibilities. Lefty laughed as he took the paper from Uncle Ted ."You're a piece of work uncle ." Ted shook his head and spoke," Oh by the way Lefty I think I worked a deal to get me and the family to go with you to Central Coast .It seems as if you're brother Russell is like a damn genius or somethin' and they want to recruit him for their physics department ."

Lefty could not believe what he was hearing .He managed to get a baseball scholarship but he would be entering college as a freshman along with his twelve year old brother.

Lefty started ranting and raving to everyone in sight about Russell being his classmate. He had a daydream of coming back to his dorm room after a date and having Russell scold his date for keeping him out late.

Lefty let out a loud scream that was heard by everyone in the Harbor Village area.
Heads turned all around at the sound of the scream but this was quickly muffled out by the sound of a large rocket that was launched from the back of Lefty's house by Russell .The rocket headed straight toward the Harbor and as the rocket descended to Earth a parachute opened and the parachute blanketed Lefty who was still ranting and raving about Russell .

Uncle Ted shouted out ,"Lefty shut up boy for one second. The University is going to help find your mom a job and a house down there. Russell won't be your roommate. Alright so just chill out . On the other hand the coach did mention he may be your tutor in chemistry and physics ." 
Lefty let a loud scream ,"Tutor.....that obnoxious squirt hah I'll show them."

Uncle Ted grabbed a tennis ball and shoved it into Lefty's mouth and smiled as he heard a jet flying overhead and saw an object  heading towards them he shouted ," Incoming".

Uncle Ted dropped to the ground and muttered to himself,"Blue ice goddamned blue ice I'm gonna miss that shit !".

 The END

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Shaps, Fredo, and our Baseball family

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ..."
It is truly a long way and I have hit a million tennis balls and a few thousand baseballs since leaving Columbus, Ohio in 1983. Also started a family with a great woman that led me back to Ohio.
During my time at The Ohio State University I was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. My maternal grandfather Roy founded the chapter in 1920 I believe.

With my son Matt at Sammy house in 2011

Sammies with Ana Ganz our housemother  Gary Shapiro is on far left

During my time at OSU I also worked as a page at the Ohio Senate for Stanley Aronoff who at the time was the Majority Whip in the Senate. He later became Senate President.
I lived in a vacuum between school, fraternity and the Senate. Then I got a girlfriend and that was basically all that was in my world.
I had played tennis in high school but it took a back seat at OSU as did the other sports that I used to play.
Especially baseball. Which currently is one of my top 2 sports to focus on every day.
Little known to me was that one of the younger members of my fraternity was quite an accomplished baseball player.
Gary Shapiro was two years younger than me.
I was friendly with the younger guys but by my Junior year I was living outside the house and only at social events and not in the frat on a daily basis. Gary starred at Gahanna High School and made the OSU squad as a walk on.
During the time after I moved out of Ohio was when  Gary had become sick and within a few years had died from cancer. I didn't know this until I noticed a picture of him on Facebook and a caption that listed him as deceased. That was where the story paused until my family moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2013.
My son had joined the Ron Golden Baseball Academy in the fall and his instructor was a very well respected local coach named Mick Shapiro from Bexley, Ohio the town where we live.
After about four or five weeks Mick mentioned that he was in a fraternity when he played baseball at the University of Cincinnati. It was the same one he said that his brother had joined at OSU.
Eventually we pieced together that Gary was his older brother. All the Shapiro boys were baseball players. Including brother Rick who also lives in Bexley. We also all share a love for the New York Yankees.
The Columbus Clippers were their AAA team for many years. Their dad Bob was a Yankee fan before they lived in Columbus when the family was in Chicago.
Mick has said to me since discovering our connection that Gary was one of the most talented ball players that he had ever seen.
Some might say that a younger brother sees an older sibling as infallable. Some might say because Gary passed away that Mick is being sentimental.
If you know Mick one of the first things that you will realize is that he is a very positive person. You will also know that he is brutally honest and has a keen eye for baseball talent. He could have been an MLB scout.
Gary had the five tools.
Cancer took those away.
I always see that in sports we are part of a bigger family.
In the tennis world sometimes we may disagree but we look to the sport collectively to better ourselves and enrich our lives.
The same can be said for baseball.
The sport is so much a part of our national culture.
It defines us as a country and gives many of us hope that tomorrow, next week, next year we may emerge from a blustery winter as champions.
One hundred and sixty two games start as a little leaguer on a T-ball field somewhere in America.
 We spend hours on a field and in a batting cage to hone our craft.
I am lucky to have re-connected with the Shapiro family and see where this baseball journey will take us together.
My only regret is that Gary is not with us.
But when we take the field or hit the cage he is there in spirit and we will honor him with every swing.
Every throw. Every win...... and even every loss.

Evan Rossio with Gary Shapiro at OSU

with Matt at 2009 World Series Game 6

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My field of Dreams is a tennis court....after all I am a tennis player

Never for one minute in my life did I think that the last tennis event I would ever compete in would take place at the site of a Grand Slam event.
Until a great group of doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery put me back together with shoulder, wrist and neck surgeries and 3 and a half years of physical therapy.
Now my life as a tennis player is known as before and after July 20th ,2008.
 That was the date of the accident that made me realize how lucky I am to play the great sport of tennis......or for what it is worth...be alive.
In June of 2012 I was able to step back onto a tennis court and compete in an event for the first time in nearly four years.
I consider that as the start of my bucket list of things to do post July 20th, 2008.
First was to play in the New Jersey State Men's Championships at the Arlington Player Club on the red clay one more time. My opponent was nearly thirty years my junior and a former #1 player at Ramapo College.
The fact that I was able to get four games against a 24 year old opponent that was ranked 11th in the USTA-Eastern section gave me great satisfaction and soreness throughout my entire body from head to toe.
Then it was on to the US Open National playoffs and a chance to compete for a spot in the US Open qualifying rounds.
In my way was Zach Jonas who had attended my camp 8 years before in Westchester County,NY.
Zach was the smallest kid that summer and the Zach that I faced in 2012 was double his size and hitting with a considerably greater amount of power and spin.
It was a physical struggle to get one game. I finally realized that to win a game let alone a point I was going to have to stand on or inside the baseline and take balls on the rise and go toe to toe with the 18 year old Zach.
In the end the 2 games that I won were a victory.
During the match I actually was running so hard that I fractured my left foot.
After witnessing Derek Jeter's 2013 injury issues I can definitely relate to  his setbacks.
Considering that in 2009 a doctor told me that I would never hit a tennis ball again a broken foot is a minor issue.
So July 20th, 2008 was in my rear view mirror a bit.
Tennis was my first love.
 Before girls.Before baseball,pizza,beer,movies and lobster.
In 2008 I had seen a couple of movies about older guys making comebacks in their respective sports and this motivated me to get back in shape for tournament play .
My love for the sport of tennis goes beyond winning matches.
I love the training,I love the sights,sounds and smells when I am on or around a tennis court.
I first hit a tennis ball as an innocent six year old boy on a clay court in Cincinnati,Ohio in 1967 .As a boy I dreamed of standing on Court Philippe Chatrier and competing on the beautiful crushed red brick for the world clay court title.
In 1988 while playing on the satellite tennis circuit I was lucky enough to visit Roland Garros when I picked up my French Federation classification card to compete in French money events.
I walked over with my tennis buddy Steve Cantor to check out Court Chatrier as it is now known .I held my breath and imagined the feeling of being out there sliding,slicing and hitting heavy topspin with that days best players .
As we walked back to the Metro station I had a visual image of returning to compete at Roland Garros to motivate me in all my practice sessions while in Paris at The University Club and Luxembourg Gardens.
When I returned to New York with renewed confidence I won two USTA-Eastern Men's events on red clay.It wasn't Paris but it was still every bit as exciting to me to claim these titles.
Before moving to New York City I viewed the US Open at Forest Hills like some sort of fairy tale place.In 1975 I sat glued to a chair in my buddy Matt Bloomfield's house while Jimmy Connors battled his way to the finals at Forest Hills on the green Har-Tru clay after they switched from grass in 1975. Only to lose to the Spanish clay master Manuel Orantes.
I never really imagined that I would stand on let alone play a match on the famed Stadium court at The West Side Tennis Club in New York City.
It was the second round of The N.Y.State Men's Clay Championships.My partner was a local teaching pro that I beat up on in sparring sessions at The Midtown Tennis Club in New York City. We faced a formidable tandem in Chris Garner and Howard Endelman. Garner had been an All American at Georgia and turned pro the year before with wins over Rafter,Kafelnikov and Todd Martin. Endelman was a top 200 ATP Tour doubles specialist.
The one game we did win was on my serve where I literally had to scratch ,claw and fight for every point.Over the next twenty years I competed on the grass courts at The West Side Tennis Club 7 or 8 times and loved every second of every match .Grass was not the easiest surface to play on but in the same way my brother looks for a challenge by going to a remote spot on the globe be it Mount Everest or Papua New Guinea .Grass is my New Guinea (minus living in mud huts and avoiding headhunters).Especially when you have to adapt your game to the nuances of tennis' original surface. Low or no bouncing balls.
Getting into a permanent squatting position works your core in ways you cannot imagine .Try doing that for a week or two!
As you warm up for a match and gaze out at the Stadium that held many legendary epic matches on one side and the beautiful main building on the other you can get weak at the knees and there were moments when I would look over in disbelief .
So in the summer of 2008 I entered a series of events in addition to competing on my USTA men's league team .
The first two events were against college opponents that were around 25-30 years younger than myself . After not playing in a tournament for 3-4 years it felt great to be in the mix . Hitting the ball cleanly, grinding out points and feeling the fatigue in my lungs and legs .
My third event was on the fabled grass at West Side . I arrived early for my match to take in the surroundings and ready myself for my match .A junior player that I knew warmed me up for what would be my final match .
It felt great to be on the grass again after a few years away .
My friend Lloyd Emanuel had run an event at West Side for many years and then a few years back (unfortunately for Eastern tennis) the tournament was cancelled.
My opponent had never competed on grass but was a good 15 years younger than me and it seemed a much better ball striker .His lack of grass court experience helped me gain an early lead of 5-2 in the first set until he figured out the unique grass bounce .
After that the battle ensued for the first set. It was ended in a tiebreaker which I lost and then he won the second set and the match .After it was over I looked across to the main building and turned to look at the Stadium and felt a bit of sadness that I would have to wait until next year to compete on the turf at West Side again .
That was June 24th and less than one month later my life as a tennis player would end for what seemed like a lifetime.
I never did get to hit a tennis ball at Roland Garros ....... only in my dreams .
But I will always have the memories of the special moments I spent at West Side etched in my mind .
Memories of the soft blades of grass ,the majestic beauty of it's Tudor clubhouse and the stadium where some of my sport's greatest matches have taken place.
Next week I will return to The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills to compete at the USTA 40 and over championships along with the likes of Michael Chang.
Yes that Chang. French Open champion. Davis Cup hero.
So I get to check one more line off my bucket list.
It would be great to think that I have the physical prowess to compete for the title but....after July 20th,2008 I feel blessed  just to hit on the grass courts one more time.

Here is the US Open story on my match with Zach Jonas

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My road back to Baseball

2009 Hat Day
Dad threw out the first pitch at my kids first trip to "The Show" in Cincy
Ever since I was introduced to the great sport of baseball by my dad and brother I have loved to be a part of everything surrounding the game.
When I was younger though my dad and I came to the mutual decision that focusing on tennis would be my best path to athletic success. So at the age of nine or ten I gave up on my dreams to one day pitch for the Big Red Machine.
I never regretted moving away from baseball towards tennis.When I reached the finals of the Cincinnati boys city championships in  1973 I knew that decision was the right one.
Having spent nearly all of my adult life playing, coaching, and living my tennis dream. Getting to travel through the  United States, Europe and the Caribbean would not have been possible without all the time spent on a tennis court. Through my years as a tennis pro I have played in over fifty
Pro-Am's. Some have been non-competitive events where we the pros rotate partners after a few games or a set. Some have have been knock down dragged out battles for prize money for the pros and big prizes for the amateurs.
In 1985 I played in my first pro-am event in Mount Kisco, New York. I was living in New York City and playing as many tournaments as I could on the USTA satellite tour as well as the USTA-Eastern men's circuit. I was lucky enough to be paired with the number one ranked over fifty senior player in the USTA for the pro-am. We cruised through the two day event and I got my first paycheck as a player.
It was two hundred bucks. For the next twenty three years there were many tennis matches that kept me chasing after rankings and some dollars. During this time I also spent many hours on the tennis court as a coach which kept me in shape and ready to pursue a dream that I had abandoned as a young boy.
My son son began playing baseball when he was three or four. While I was spending hours on the tennis court and working six days a week my kid was at our house pounding wiffle balls out of the pitching machines that he had received as birthday presents from his friends and family,
Then his sister and babysitter would take turns pitching batting practice to him where he would slam the wiffle ball over their head into our neighbor Grace's yard or into the street and careening down the hill of our cul-de-sac.
On my one day off I was usually too tired to take him outside to play catch, hit tennis balls or any type of sport. I took him to a playground where I would usually sit on a bench and recuperate my sore muscles from six straight days of chasing down tennis balls.
When my son got started in tee ball I noticed that he had pretty good hand eye coordination and he really loved the baseball experience. So I began to find time to play catch with him. I used a glove we had purchased for my daughter for softball.
A few times in 2008 I even took him to a cage and pitched to him. It was during this time that I bought a package for the Yankees for their last year at the old stadium. My kids were both Mets fans so I also bought a package for them to Shea Stadium before the move to Citifield.
My wife called it " My sentimental journey through baseball history".
It was a great experience to attend many games during that spring,summer and fall in both stadiums even though my loyalty was to the Pinstripes and still the Reds.
My son had his eight birthday on the date of a Yankees-Orioles game and twice during the game his name flashed across the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium. I'm not sure if that was the night he decided to become a Yankee fan but that's the story I tell everyone I know.
It was more likely that after the Mets collapsed at the end of 2008 for the second year in a row and failed to get to the postseason that my boy gave up on his team's chances at returning to avenge their 2006 ALCS loss. He had gotten tickets to the NL Division Series if the Mets made it in that year.
The last day of the season they had a chance to make the playoffs with a win.
New Yankee Stadium first practice
The next day he became one hundred percent Yankee blue. Just look at his room now with it's Yankee blue walls and Yankee Fathead decals.
As 2009 rolled around we along with many people were extremely excited about the new baseball palaces in New York.
With both my kids and my friend Mike we attended the Yankees first practice. A few days earlier my son and me had sat in the rain at Citifield to watch Georgetown play St. John's in it's inaugural game.
I had subsequently retired from tennis so there was plenty of free time on my hands to play catch with my son and catch up on all the things I had missed in my kids lives since my daughter was born.
I even got to help coach in little league that season. We got a package at Yankee Stadium to attend eleven games. During that spring I started throwing a baseball more than I had done in the previous forty years combined.Once would have been more since I never had picked a baseball up since I was a kid. When my son got selected by his teammates to the All-Star game I got to coach the team. Over the next year we played catch many times and I pitched batting practice as well.
We got to see a few post season games and were in the Bronx to witness the Yankees win their twenty seventh title. First time witnessing in person a team that I supported winning a championship
was pretty amazing.
 I had been to some World Series games in Cincinnati but the Reds won their titles on the road and when they lost in 1972 to the A's I did see in person the agony of defeat in losing a Game 7.
As a tennis player I have lost 3 city championship finals, two state team championships and a match that decided who would be ranked number one in the USTA-Eastern section im my age category.
Not a great feeling ending up on the short end but I play for love of the sport and the results are a product of that passion to compete.
The New York Giants win in the 2008 Super Bowl inspired me to always fight hard and never give up on your dreams as it had come at the tail end of my dad's seventy eight day stay in the ICU and  hospital step down facilities that nearly took him from us. The Giants were road warriors that year. My dad was our warrior as he bravely fought back against Myasthenia Gravis.
The Yankees were warriors of the walk off pie in your face win in 2009. They always battled and never gave up. Even during their tough losses there was much to learn from them.
In 2010 my son  joined a travel team and baseball moved front and center into our daily lives. We still spent some time in the Bronx watching "our Yankees" but since his travel team played all year long it required more time spent practicing the skills to become an elite player and it limited our focus on the Yankees and more onto his baseball.
His team won two titles that season and he had begun working with a local pro player that coached him on his hitting, fielding and pitching skills.
Chris Vasami was arguably the best baseball player to ever come out of Westchester County. He attended Notre Dame after being named as on of the top fifty national prospects in his senior year at Mamaroneck High School in 2004. He had transferred to Elon University where he was All-Conference. He was surely on his way to big things in Major League Baseball. He could hit a baseball over four hundred fifty feet. He had a fastball in the mid-90s and he also spent time as a catcher. Chris got drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 39th round and settled into their farm system where he was used primarily as a catcher.
During his time with the Rockies (4 seasons) he put up some good numbers as a hitter but in 2009 during spring training he was hit in the hand by a pitch. His season was over and upon his return to the team in 2010 he was released since they had filled his slot in his year away from the game.
He never gave up on his dreams and was now pitching in the Independent League for the Newark Bears. The manager of the Bears is Tim Raines who may one day very soon be enshrined in Cooperstown. Also coaching him is Ron Karkovice who spent twelve seasons in the Bigs as a catcher.
My son and I immediately bonded with Chris. Chris is young enough to be my own son but after spending time talking with him it became apparent that he has knowledge and maturity well beyond his years. My son and Chris have spent many hours crafting his swing. Improving his fielding and throwing skills as well. It was during these sessions with Chris and his pursuit of his goal to get to
"the Show" that I started to wonder what it must feel like to be on the field in a pro baseball game.
I love being a fan and spending time at Yankee Stadium but I wanted to experience the game as a player.
In 2011 we got to witness our friend Chris pitch many games for the Newark Bears. The Bears were at one time the Yankees minor league team. After each game we would talk or text and discuss how the game went that day.
For my son to see his coach standing on the mound in a professional game inspired him to work harder than he ever had to improve his skills so that maybe one day he would be the guy out on that mound. Over the summer we changed our usual practice routine. We would normally go to the batting cage where I would just pitch to him. He would hit great in practice and in a game he had days when he would get one or two hits and other days no hits. I guess that's the norm in baseball. But as a tennis player it has always seemed hard to understand how not hitting the ball every time and still being considered successful is accepted.
I had competed against guys that served in the 120-130 mph range and beaten them so hitting a
95 mph fastball didn't seem that fast. Let alone a little leaguer throwing it in the 50 mph range.
How ignorant can one person really be?
 Pretty darn ignorant is what I was!
On rainy days we used to go under this big bridge in our town where they have paved areas and some practice walls next to a park that has four tennis courts. There are two areas for practicing. One has tennis backboards and the other side has a mini track for kids to run or skateboard.
We chose the track side and on one wall we noticed that someone had painted an outline of a person on the wall that had a rectangular box for a strike zone. So someone had obviously played baseball under there before. About fifty feet away was the other wall so I found a spot that would serve as a pitching rubber about four feet from the wall. We decided that instead of doing batting practice that we would play a simulated game. We would each get two innings at bat. There were five panels on our side of the bridge. If the ball hit the ceiling it was a foul ball. If you hit a ground ball and it reached the middle three panels before being fielded by the pitcher it was a single. If it was hit as a line drive and it hit the bottom half of the wall on the fly it was a double. If it hit the top half of the wall it was a triple and if that triple rolled back and hit the wall closest to the batter then it was a home run and dad was going to have to add some money to his son's allowance that week. I had not swung a bat in quite some time and I hit righty and also experimented as a lefty hitter similar to my two handed backhand in tennis.
Righty or lefty I was hitting with little if any authority. I shortened my swing and started making better contact but my kid was hitting very well and when he got into a game for his little league and travel team his average went way up. I experimented with different grips as a pitcher and different arm angles. I practiced pitching out of the stretch and the windup. My son's pitching control improved also and he got into some games for his team as their closer. In one game he only had to throw one pitch to end the game. In another he got them out of a jam with two runners on base. It wasn't always perfect. One game he walked the first three guys after the coach of the other team told his players not to swing until they got a strike. After seven or eight fastballs that missed he threw a strike. He was  frustrated because he felt that he let his team down. His team was winning 11-3 so not wanting to give the other team a chance a new pitcher was inserted and he threw slow perfect strikes that the other team's boys watched pass by them at the plate not knowing when to swing. Their coach had made them so scared to swing and make a mistake that they all froze up. By the way that team was in last place and never won a game the entire season.
The coach had them practicing three or four days a week and doing intensive drills and the  kids had stopped coming to practice. Baseball is supposed to be fun. I guess when your coach doesn't realize that and only focuses on winning not fun then it's time to check out mentally.
So over the course of 2011 our games under the bridge continued and I really felt like I wanted to play baseball. Sometimes when I was sitting in my seats at Yankee Stadium I would cheer for the boys in pinstripes and say to myself, " self.... I want to be out there doing that. Be on that mound."
So as summer turned to fall and started edging towards winter my son's travel team once again won their league championship in mid-November. It was two weeks after the World Series ended and I was a bit sad that baseball was officially over until the spring. Well at least games were over. There was still my son's team workouts and those with his coach. But our time under the bridge was over until spring. As Rogers Hornsby said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
I didn't want to have to stare out that window.
I had been told by my friend Mike that on his fortieth birthday in 1990 that his wife had given him a great birthday present. A week at the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp. One of his coaches was his favorite player Mickey Mantle. He spent a week hanging out with Ol' number 7.
I heard how he hit a ball all the way to the wall in deep center field and Mickey winked at him as he cruised into second base and said, " Nice hit kid". Pretty cool!
I had spoken to two or three guys from back home in Cincinnati that had gone to the Reds Fantasy Camp. One guy goes back every year and also pitches on a team for players fifty and over in Ohio.
A Yankees beat reporter that I follow on Twitter was attending the November Yankees Fantasy Camp and giving updates. It sounded like a great experience. Aside from him talking about the long line of players that had to see the trainers for an assortment of injuries that middle aged men not accustomed to sprinting ninety yards and throwing from deep in the outfield to hit a cutoff man or diving at shortstop to keep a ball from getting through the gap into center.
So I emailed the camp director Julie to see if spots were available to get me into a Yankees uniform for my shot at playing in " The Show".
 Julie replied that a few spots were still left and so I registered online for my big league dream.
If it were only so easy for my friend Chris Vasami. But he may one day wear an actual MLB uniform. I can only pretend. So I filled out my forms for registration and indicated that I wanted to be number 54. My son's number and also the number of the great Hall of Famer Yankee
Goose Gossage.
So I started training the week before Thanksgiving for my journey to Tampa. I went to hit off a batting tee every other day as a righty and as a lefty. Fifty swings on each side. Some days more.

I took a bag of balls spread them out along a fence and did a running drill where I would sprint to a ball stop turn and fire it into the soft toss net about forty to fifty feet away.
I stood on the bullpen mound at our high school where the boys team had won back to back state championships in 2008 and 2009. I set up a tee at home plate at my sons suggestion and placed a ball on the tee. I trudged back to the mound sixty feet and six inches way and took my bag of fifty baseballs and took aim at the ball on the tee. At first that sixty feet seemed like a mile. Especially since the distance we played at under the bridge was forty six feet which is the Little League distance. We had always done long toss throwing of one hundred to one hundred fifty feet. But being precise from sixty feet ain't no picnic in the park.
I experimented with different grips and arm angles. I practiced pitching out of the stretch and windup.
One day I asked my son to bat with me pitching from the mound on the actual field and had him put on his catching gear and get used to seeing a catcher behind the plate.I was usually ready for a nap after most of these workouts.
I was able to knock the ball off the tee a few times and hit my son's glove with good accuracy.
Oh by the way I forgot to mention that his allowance got bigger in those weeks where he went on the field with me to pursue my dream. He even yelled at me like a real coach as he threw me ground balls and pop ups, he told me if I missed a ball I had to do push ups or run a lap.
People running on the track surrounding the field must have laughed as they saw an eleven year old barking out commands to his middle aged student.
On the weekends when I went to the high school field to hit into the soft toss net off the tee I always saw a local kid in the batting cage that had been drafted by the Yankees in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. For the last couple years we had gone to the cage at the high school and had seen this boy and his dad spend hours doing hitting drills. We always said hello and watched with awe as he hit with incredible precision and power. He looked like every second in the cage with his dad was fun.
He was living his dream. He had turned down a full scholarship at Fordham to play for the Yankees organization. I'm sure getting a good signing bonus helped convince him to play baseball.
He was also probably wondering why a middle aged guy was there hitting off a tee on a cold fall afternoon.
I was thinking that live pitching and hitting off a tee were not the same so I started going to the indoor cage two times a week and realized I had some work to do. I usually hit 160 balls from the pitching machines. Eighty pitches lefty and eighty righty.Starting at 50 mph and then moving to 65mph. My hands hurt pretty bad on the 65mph but eventually as my hands got tougher they hurt less.
I also went to the gym with a new purpose. Increasing core strength was my goal. Swimming helped my upper body core. I started playing squash which is mostly short sprints, lunges and squats that helped my legs and fast twitch muscles react better. It is a great cardio-respiratory workout as well.
I know some MLB pitchers that like C.aptain C.runch cereal that might benefit from playing this game.
No names though (see above initials).
I found this balance board thing in the gym that I used for thirty minutes every other day while drinking a cup of coffee. Then added some light dumbbell weights while on the board and simulated a pitching motion. Or a batting stance. As my week in Tampa approached I felt extremely excited and felt as if I had done everything in my power to prepare for the Big Leagues.
Then I said goodbye to my family and packed my bags for my trip to George M. Steinbrenner Field and the Yankees complex.
With my goals set as 1. being to be able to get a batter out as a pitcher and 2.to get a hit into the outfield and 3. to stay out of the trainer's room the entire week  I set out on my journey to "The Show".