TERRE HAUTE —
Having seen some outstanding baseball — and some not-so-outstanding baseball — at literally every level of play this spring and summer, I have identified what without a doubt is my main pet peeve with the sport.
I’m not referring to popcorn or pretzels or nachos or cheese sticks or corn dogs or snow cones or candy or ice cream. Those can also be a serious problem — particularly if the kids are with me — but one that can be solved by simply running out of money.
No, I’m talking about pitchers who absolutely refuse to challenge hitters, whether those hitters are capable of hitting or not — Rick Sutcliffe from 1985 on, Ryan Dempster in the first Cubs playoff game against the Dodgers in 2008, etc.
During the past few days I’ve witnessed two less famous pitchers with similar game plans, resulting in one victory for the team I was rooting for that wasn’t that much fun to watch and one loss for the team I was rooting for that was absolutely excruciating to endure.
Neither of these pitchers were being hit hard at all.
On the few occasions when they’d throw the ball near the plate the opposing batters, often as not, would swing and miss. Those batters weren’t required to swing, however, because their team could get around the bases with walks, hit batters and wild pitches.
Coaches and managers of the pitchers involved were a lot more patient than I would have been, because here’s how I interpret that kind of pitching. To me, that pitcher is saying:
1. I do not trust my stuff.
2. I am not willing to risk letting somebody on the other team hit the ball, no matter how good my defense behind me happens to be.
3. I am not willing to compete, because I am afraid I might lose.
4. I want my mommy.
What also bothered me in this regard this summer was how pitchers in the Prospect League approached their craft. The Terre Haute Rex were among the highlights of the season for most baseball fans, and rightfully so, but my biggest surprise was how much the wood bats impacted the offense. I didn’t see all that many games, but I did not see a home run and only remember one ball hit far enough to back the outfielder to the fence.
So my biggest disappointment with Prospect League play was watching the pitchers … well, you can probably guess.
My favorite pitcher this summer? A.J. Reed of Wayne Newton Post 346 and Terre Haute South, who has a fastball and is not afraid to use it.
My favorite amateur pitcher of all-time? Could be Shakamak’s Jimmy John Yeryar, whose philosophy in his heyday, maybe 20 years ago, was something like “Here it is, let’s see if you can hit it.”
My favorite T-shirt worn by a pitcher? It may have been former Cub Steve Trout (although this sounds too sensible for him) who wore one saying, “Babe Ruth’s dead. Throw strikes!”
Other baseball notes:
• Best-of-seven series I’d pay to see — Wayne Newton Post 346, 2006 version, vs. Wayne Newton Post 346, 2010 version.
• Matchup from that series I’d pay to see, and may get to some day — Reed pitching to Brady Shoemaker.
Speaking of the 2010 Post 346 team, by the way, I told manager John Hayes back in April or May, when I’d heard about the roster that he was assembling, that I fully expected him to go undefeated.
Obviously, even though John and his kids aren’t reading this on the internet from Spokane right now, a 43-7 record is nothing to sneeze at.
But you add a healthy Caleb Mason to that mix, and I’m not sure my prediction wasn’t a valid one.
Scott McDonald no doubt knows the feeling.
• Baseball coincidences, parents’ division — Lori Klimek-Fisher e-mailed to point out that her son Brian Fisher is the common link between the last Terre Haute North Little League team to win the state tournament and the aforementioned 2006 Post 346 squad.
This summer, of course, Sallee Collett spent a lot of time at Mattoon watching son Dougie play for Post 346 while her husband John was managing the North Little League team at Indianapolis that included their son T.J.
• Sad connection — Condolences to the family of John Winniski, a slugging first baseman/outfielder on the 1974 Terre Haute North High School state champions — another team that, if a time machine were available, would be a good match for the two great Post 346 teams.
John was on the minds of several members of that team who were watching the other Terre Haute teams play during the past week. Also in their thoughts, and now in mine, was outfielder Jackie Smith, who I’m told is also battling some health issues right now.
One non-baseball item:
• The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association released its Division II All-Academic Team last week.
Of the 156 student-athletes who compiled a grade-point average of at least 3.30 and met indoor or outdoor automatic or provisional qualifying standards, six — including Shakamak graduate Anthony Witt — were from Grand Valley State.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.