A sailor must navigate the Bermuda Triangle. A climber must scale Half Dome. A fat man must conquer page 3 at Denny's.
And if you think of yourself as a hitter, you must face Nolan Ryan.
The other day, having kielbasa for brains, I did.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Ten lucky Baby Ruth customers won an all-medical-expenses-paid trip to face Nolan Ryan, the greatest strikeout pitcher in history. A p.r. guy wanted to know if I'd be the 11th.
I thought, Well, what could be more fun than facing the greatest fastball pitcher of all time wearing a pathetic plastic Baby Ruth helmet?
To prepare, I took hitting lessons from a former New York Yankees farmhand named Bill Stearns, who kept saying, "You're gonna do great! Just keep your head in there!" Uh, Bill? You heard this is Nolan Ryan, right? Once threw a pitch clocked at 100.9 mph? Tossed a record seven no-hitters? You keep your head in there. I'll be bailing like a Titanic crewman.
So there we were at The Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, home of the minor league Express, which Ryan owns a piece of. We started off hitting in the cage against Nolan's son Reid. And I was just flat raking it. Thank you, Bill Stearns. Line drives. Opposite field ropes. Two bombs, the last of which I stood and admired. After all, how often do you see a ball fly almost all the way to the warning track?
That's when I heard this voice from behind: "You admire one like that against me and I'll give ya an earful."
It was Nolan Ryan himself.
Would anybody have a spare pair of underwear?