Bruce Kison was born in 1950 in Pasco, Wash., a rich farming community near the Columbia River. By the time he was 12 he had developed into a fine pitcher, having hurled several no-hitters in Little League "like a million other kids," he says. "In one of those games I struck out 15 batters in five innings, and ever since, the possibility that someday I might pitch a perfect game has always been in my head when I take the mound. I dream of games when I strike out every batter I face on three straight pitches—but I guess that is every pitcher's dream, isn't it?"
After hurling three no-hitters in his senior year of high school Bruce was drafted by the Pirates (not very high) and signed to what he calls "a sizable bonus, although I'd rather not say how much." Before he signed, however, he made the Pirates promise to let him finish his spring semester of college each year before joining a club. "I wanted to make sure I finished college," he says. "So many guys drop out and are left with nothing. I was determined that wouldn't happen to me."
After signing, Bruce enrolled at Columbia Basin Junior College as a history major and then was sent to Bradenton in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. When he arrived he found "a hundred guys running around in Pittsburgh uniforms. We had 30 pitchers, and there were supposed to be just 15 by the end of the season. It was like a pressure cooker, everyone trying to cut each other's throat. You would make friends with a guy, and the next day he would be gone. You wondered when it would be your turn. You learn to evaluate yourself and your talent honestly, and in the process you grow up. I was one of the 15 pitchers left at the end."
Bruce posted a 2-1 record and a 2.25 ERA in 10 games, nine of them as a reliever. "When I got back to Pasco," he says, "I thought I was quite the stud. I told everyone I was going to give baseball three years and then quit if I wasn't at the top. Now I've already been in two years, and if I work myself up into Triple A the next few years, I probably will find it hard to leave. Maybe I'll stick it out five years. But I definitely won't stay in as long as Woody. I'll finish college first. This baseball is a nice game and all, but not in the minor leagues."
Kison moved up from the Pirates' Class A team at Salem, Va. to Waterbury in June. After he had watched a few Eastern League games Bruce decided that it wasn't a very tough league after all. "Any good high school pitcher can win here," he said. He was as good as his word. He hurled back-to-back two-hitters in his first two starts.
"I no longer worry about being released," he says. "I know I'm established. Now all I worry about is how soon I will get to Pittsburgh. Our farm director, Harding Peterson, said I was one of their top prospects, but you can't rely on that stuff. They are never straight with you."
Harding Peterson arrived in Waterbury shortly before the trip to Elmira. He had sat in the dugout, immaculately dressed and motionless, staring through dark glasses at the players performing before his eyes. "We usually let young pitchers build their confidence in the lower leagues," he said, "but Bruce Kison already has his. We would like to hurry him along to Pittsburgh. That's why I am here, to talk him into playing in Florida. But whenever we ask him to do things like that he has a thousand questions. Other guys will stammer and hesitate, but in the end you get them to do what you want. But not Bruce. He plans ahead."
Peterson did not hide the fact that he no longer considered Woody Huyke a prospect. "We drafted Woody from Oakland because he is a fine, intelligent fellow with a reputation for getting along with people," Peterson said. "His job is to work closely with the manager in bringing along kids. He is an excellent liaison man between the front office and the Latins. Huyke has never made any money in this game, so I told him if things work out there might be a job for him one day as a coach. But I have never promised anything. We still have some use for him as a player."
The Waterbury Pirates take the field in the bottom of the first. Huyke tells Kison to let him know if the arm bothers him. Kison nods, though he is thinking he will not say a word unless the pain becomes unbearable. Kison's first pitch is a strike. Huyke returns the ball, and the pitcher looks for the next sign. He fires another fastball past the Elmira batter for a strike. After two wasted fastballs Kison strikes out the batter with a fifth fastball.
On the mound Kison does not look so young or awkward anymore. His pitching motion is spare and quick. It is distilled of all impurities and his thinking is concentrated like a point of light. He throws each pitch from the same side-armed angle, with the same speed of delivery and with the same amount of time taken between each pitch. He gets his sign, delivers and waits in his followthrough until the ball is returned. Then he turns, takes two steps back to the rubber, turns again and repeats the process. He never, for effect, rubs up a baseball, wipes sweat from his brow or turns to contemplate the center-field flagpole. His face shows neither self-satisfaction after a good pitch nor anger after a poor one. He seems to have no self-conscious desire to call attention to himself as do most young pitchers.