It was a perfect summers day in 1976, The Bronx USA. The House that Ruth Built, actually George M Steinbrenner had a lot to do with it too, but you get the point. I was 10 at the time, but very mature for my age. You see, I had already figured out that I would one day roam the spacious outfield for the bombers following in the footsteps of DiMaggio, Mantle and Bobby Murcer – so I had a vested interest in all that was happening with my beloved Yankees. I didn’t realize it then, but I was about to witness the most amazing thing I had ever seen on a ball field. Although it wasn’t until many years later that I realized what I had seen that day was so truly special.
The Twinkies vs. the Bombers
Of course I had gotten to the stadium early to watch batting practice and was parked right on the rail along the left field line. Just me and about 1500 other 10 year olds begging for baseballs and autographs. But I wasn’t like them because A) I was going to play there one day and B) my neighbor who had taken me to the game knew Roy White. That’s right, Coy Roy with the pigeon toed batting stance and full afro. Let me tell you something, times were different then and Roy White exemplified everything that was better in the world in 1976 than it is now. What a gentlemen! He came over and talked with me, gave me an autographed ball and just couldn’t have been kinder. He looked at me right in the eye the whole time and made me feel as if my approach to hitting and how I was doing in little league was the most important thing in the world. I clutched that autographed baseball the entire ride home and swore to cherish it forever. A few days later, because I was out of baseballs, it ended up on the Aldene Elementary School roof. I just know Roy would understand.
But I digress. While meeting Roy White was a memory I will hold near and dear for the rest of my life, It was Rod Carew’s batting practice that day that is the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a baseball field. Yes, other players bats sounded a bit louder than Carew’s and many of their balls were rocketing over the outfield fence, but I watched Carew systematically hit 5 line drives down the leftfield line, then 5 to center and 5 to right. Wow, what bat control, he was truly practicing – not just swinging for the seats. That’s the work ethic and discipline I would need to make it to the big leagues. That’s right, I was 10 and actually thinking this – who does that at 10? Me. I had no life outside baseball so what the heck. Anyway, that in itself is not so amazing, but the way Carew hit the ball down the lines, the way he shaped it is something I had never seen before and never saw again. When a left handed batter hits the ball towards the left field line, it inevitably has to tail a bit towards foul territory – right? At a minimum, it may stay true and will fly straight. Well Carew’s ball didn’t. It actually had a tiny amount of hook spin. It would fly over the third base bag and I’d wait for it to fade foul and bounce into the seats where me and my new 1500 friends were waiting to pounce on it. But it never happened. Time and again, it seemed to defy the laws of physics and gently curve back towards the playing field and land 10 feet fair. It was like he was teasing us. Anyone who has ever played the game knows what I’m talking about – you just know the ball is going to short hop you or curve just out of your reach. It becomes instinctive after playing for so long. Even the 1500 chuckleheads around me knew it even if they didn’t know they knew it. Carew would hit a ball down the line, everyone would get the sense that this can’t stay fair and would ultimately begin leaning and positioning to get what was sure to be a one-hopper into the stands. To our dismay, those balls Rod Carew hit never did make it into the stands. Looking back, I would never trade what I saw that day for a baseball. After all, it probably would have only ended up on a roof at some school somewhere.