He's no Mr. Sunshine. By timing, Rettenmund means the synchronicity of body parts, especially the two-part harmony that must exist naturally between the lower body and the hands. "If you have to think about what your hands are doing," Rettenmund says, "it's too late. The ball is past you."
The team is divided evenly for the six-inning intrasquad game. Coach Ernie Whitt tells me I will be replacing Catalanotto in leftfield after three innings. Gibbons, perhaps extending the aggressive theme of camp a mite too far, tells me, "If you get on, go ahead and take a bag."
The dugout and field are largely quiet. There are one-on-one conversations in the dugout after some at bats, in which every pitch gets a full-blown autopsy. But chatter of the Little League variety is essentially nonexistent, except for one master practitioner: Hudson, whose lips cease flapping only when he sleeps, or so rumor has it. Hudson is to chatter what the machine gun is to ammunition. Even in the middle of a play, when Menechino stabs a hot bouncer at third base and prepares to throw to first, Hudson yells, "Attawaytogo, Mini-Me!"
Our side, the home team, is winning 2-0 when I replace Catalanotto in leftfield in the fourth. Hinske, the finicky hitter, does launch a fly ball in my direction, but it lands far foul. No other projectiles come anywhere near me for my three innings.
McDonald begins our turn at bat in the fifth with a triple, which thrills me because I am next. The infielders play in, which means they can cover less ground against me.
As I step in to hit, a fan behind the backstop says to no one in particular, "Who's this guy? I don't have a number 2 on my roster."
"He's a new guy," says Ricciardi, who is seated with Gibbons behind the backstop. "We just signed him."
The pitcher is Chad Gaudin, 21, a freckle-faced, 165-pound righthander from Louisiana who somehow conceals a 94-mph fastball and hellacious slider beneath his Huck Finn looks. Gaudin (pronounced GO-dan) reached the big leagues with Tampa Bay in 2003 just two years removed from high school. He threw a perfect game in the minors that year and set an organizational record with a 1.81 ERA. After Gaudin finished with a 4.85 ERA out of the Devil Rays' bullpen last year, Ricciardi traded Kevin Cash, a 27-year-old catcher, to add Gaudin's live arm to his bullpen. Cash left behind some of his bats. The black maple one that I have in my hands, still intact after numerous turns in the cage, is one of them.
What I don't know is that among AL pitchers who faced at least 200 batters last year, only 12 hit batters with more frequency than Gaudin (correction: pronounced go-DOWN). It may be a fool's naiveté, but I don't even think about the possibility of getting hit.
During one of our tracking sessions in the cage, I had asked Johnson if he ever dwelled on the possibility of getting struck by a pitch. He told me, "There is no fear factor as a hitter. You're so locked in on hitting that you don't allow that thought. You wouldn't be here if you did. When I'm going good is when I usually get hit. It means I'm staying in there longer."