“Some kids pretend to be hitters; some kids pretend to be pitchers.” – Michael Cuddyer
I don’t link other people’s work in it’s entirety here very often but given how much Cuddyer had always wanted to pitch and how many times we had talked about it happening.. oh yeah, and of course the fact that it finally happened and I didn’t get to SEE it, I thought you would like to see his own write-up that he put on FSN about the experience.
Just about every little boy in America at one point in time dreams of being a major league baseball player. He and other kids from the neighborhood run around in the backyard and pretend to be the players on their favorite teams.
Some kids pretend to be hitters; some kids pretend to be pitchers. Then there are some kids, like me, who will not relinquish being their favorite player and will use that player to pitch even if he’s a hitter. Don Mattingly was the starting pitcher in 500 or so games in my backyard. Sometimes, when no other kids were home to play, he even would pitch to himself, using my garage door as the batter.
It was my dream to be major league player. I wanted to hit home runs and make great plays in the field. I also wanted to get guys out on the mound and control the game and how it flowed. After years as a hitter in the majors, I got to live my pitching dream on a hot Monday night in Texas, and it is something I will never forget.
I was drafted in 1997 out of Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va. I was scouted mainly as a shortstop, but I also pitched. Some teams were interested in me as a pitcher, but none was really serious. I did have a good arm and occasionally would pitch in the mid-90s, but I was nothing more than a thrower. That means I had no clue on the mound; I just held the ball and threw it as hard as I could on every pitch.
In high school, that’s great. It can get you through a lot of games, and it allows you to have success while doing so. However, most teams saw that having a good arm would be more beneficial to me in the field. Still, when the Twins drafted me as an infielder, it didn’t stop me from living out my pitching dream about once every month or so in the minor leagues.
My first stop in pro ball was with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Being that I was 19 and not even a year removed from pitching, I would try to get our catchers to catch for me in the bullpen. Because I was a high draft pick and the coaches didn’t want to lose their job if I got hurt, they put an end to that quickly. But that just caused me to wear out my throwing partner’s glove and shins when we played catch on flat ground warming up for batting practice.
I would throw four-seam fastballs, two-seam fastballs, sliders, cutters, curveballs and split-fingered pitches. Heck, I’d even invent pitches. I would lobby to pitch an inning in blowouts but never was given the opportunity. That trend continued all through my journey to the big leagues.
My first few years in Minnesota, I never was in a spot to request pitching time or even play around with pitches while warming up. I didn’t want to do anything that would cause Manager Ron Gardenhire or the front office to feel as though I didn’t belong or was just messing around. Once I got somewhat established, that all changed.
I remember infielder Nick Punto and I would go out early and work on our pitches. I would catch for him and he would catch for me. Nick had a great knuckleball and an electric arm. Before I dislocated my index finger in ’08, the knuckleball also was in my arsenal. But after that injury, I never could grip the ball with my fingertips again. Nick and I would tell pitching coach Rick Anderson and Gardy how we were available in case of a blowout. There were a few games when I thought one of us would have a chance to get on the hill. Once in Oakland, we were getting beat pretty badly and had gone through a few pitchers with three innings to go when one of our relievers did a great job and got through the rest of the game with a minimal amount of pitches. I was sure that would be the only chance I would have in my career to get on the mound.
Then came Monday night when — unfortunately/fortunately — the stars aligned themselves for me to get a chance to live the dream I had in my backyard all of those years ago.
For those of you who didn’t watch the game Monday night, we struggled. Whatever our guys threw up there, the Rangers hit it. Before we knew it, we were down 18-1 in the fifth inning. When we got to the top of the seventh, Gardy came up to me and asked how mad I would be if he put Trevor Plouffe in to pitch.
I told him that it was his team and he obviously should do what he felt was best, but I would have been hot, given how long I had wanted an opportunity to present itself like this. Gardy then proceeded to say reliever Alex Burnett would pitch the bottom of the seventh and I would pitch the eighth. Words can’t describe how excited I was. I was hitting in the top of the eighth and ended up walking. As I was on base, I was worried I wouldn’t have any time to throw a few just to get loose. Then Jason Kubel hit a two-run home run and it gave me a chance to go down to the bullpen to throw a handful of pitches before heading to the mound.
The run from the bullpen to the mound was surreal. I had seen so many pitchers make that run, and for me to finally be able to do it … I just took it all in. When I did get to the mound, I was surprisingly calm. I figured my heart would be racing a mile a minute, and I was sure my first warmup pitch was going to hit the back screen. Fortunately, it didn’t.
After leadoff hitter Mike Napoli doubled, I thought I was in for it. There was no way I was going to be able to finish the inning. It felt like the hitters saw the ball on a tee and were just going to let it rip. I ended up loading the bases with one out and fortunately got Elvis Andrus to hit a shallow fly to left. Then I was able, by the grace of God, to get David Murphy to pop up to end the inning with no runs scored. My dream was over, but it ended with the best-case scenario. I obviously had a huge smile on my face when I came in the dugout and was happy to see smiles on my teammates’ faces as well. It was good to see smiles during an otherwise pretty tough game.
So now I have a story to tell, and you just heard it. I get to do something every day that millions upon millions of people dream of doing but only a handful ever get to do. And then, one hot Monday night in Texas, I got to be a major league pitcher. Who knows? Maybe Don Mattingly would have fared just as well as he did when he went 500-0 all of those years ago in my backyard.