It was a thrill,
all right. As I walked out of the tunnel into the sunlight and onto the field,
my heart was pumping furiously. It was a beautiful sight. I'll never forget
that first moment. I was 36 pretending to be 21, but I felt like 16.
Because my knees
were shaking, I turned to Lister, who was standing behind the dugout. He made a
fist and nodded in encouragement. My throat was as dry as a bone, and I didn't
feel at all at ease. I stared at him, half wondering if he could hypnotize me
right then and there.
Baseman Glenn Beckert called out to me. "Catch, Aussie?"
I collected my
wits. " 'Catch,' mate?" I asked as though I didn't know what he
He pounded a ball
in his glove and made a throwing gesture. I nodded, and we warmed up together.
Beckert was an old pro, formerly a star with the Cubs, who was now past his
prime. I thought, I'll bet I'm older than he is! (I was, by two years.)
Then I was on the
field during batting practice, and someone was fungoing ground balls to me
between pitches. I made all the moves, but I wasn't really there. I couldn't
seem to handle the ball right. Over the years, I'd made thousands of throws
right on the money. Suddenly I couldn't. It kept crossing my mind that someone
was going to recognize me. After all, a player's moves are his signature. Then
I was called in to hit, and I grabbed a few bats. Someone told me to use a
particular one. I got in the cage and started knocking the ball when Derrel
Thomas, the Padres' shortstop, rushed over and grabbed the bat I was using.
Instinctively, I wouldn't let him have it. "Nobody uses my bat!" he
hollered. Lots of ballplayers are sensitive about that, I knew. I heard
laughter behind the cage and realized I'd been set up. I took another bat, but
my hitting wasn't the same. I barely made contact with the next few pitches and
got angry at myself. Then I got even angrier at the pitcher when he didn't
throw strikes. I couldn't get it all together. When the game began, I didn't
even shower. I grabbed my clothes and met Lister, and we blew out of San Diego
like a pair of thieves.
pretty sad, Rich," he snapped at me. "You lost your cool. I had the
glasses on you. You looked like you were itching for trouble."
"I guess I
was scared," I said.
were quitting on yourself."
We drove in
silence. I thought: Was it true? Was a part of me hoping to be discovered
before I had the chance to play a professional game?