Excerpt reprinted with permission:
Whoosh! Smack! Each hurl of the ball ripped through the air like the sound of faraway firecrackers, cracking in the wind. There was no mistaking five ounces of high-velocity leather snapping into a catcher’s mitt.
“What’s the speed on that last one?” Nicky asked, removing his cap.
“97!” the assistant called back as he looked again at the number on the speed gun.
“Damn! That’s fast!” Nicky scratched his head. He spat a wad of tobacco on the ground and then slipped a tin of chew from his training jacket. He placed another pinch inside his cheek. “Play some college ball, Son?”
“No, Sir,” I replied, shaking my head. “I did play in high school, though...”
“Pitcher?” he quizzed.
“Nope,” I gestured, thumb down, digging my foot into the bright red clay behind the rubber.
“That’s hard to believe. Who could have missed you...and a Lefty too?” He continued muttering. “Impossible, I would have dragged you...”
Nicky was still shaking his head when my throw interrupted him mid-sentence. Whack! The echo signaled that it was fast.
“That was 99!” the assistant called out.
“Bo Garrett, right?” Nicky asked, checking his clipboard. “You’re a local kid?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Portland, ninety miles up the road.”
“I love Maine,” he said. “The seafood, the microbrews; you know we’ve got Double-A?”
I nodded. “Sure do, the Sea Dogs, Mr. Cantor.”
“Kid, my dad was Mr. Cantor, call me Nicky. None of our scouts ever took a look at you?”
I shook my head. “They came by, watched our games, but I didn’t play much. I guess I was easy to miss, Nicky.” It was tough calling the great pitching coach by his first name.
“Well, you’re high and outside,” he hedged. “Unorthodox style.”
“I’ll take anything as a compliment,” I thought as I stepped back to the mound.
Nicky squinted. “Do you think you could settle down? I’d like to see you pitch to a live hitter.”
“You’ve got plenty of raw speed,” he reeled off. “No mechanics, but plenty of speed.” He scratched his thoughts onto the paper clamped on his clipboard.
“Alright,” I agreed.
Nicky motioned to a batter who was warming up near the dugout. The catcher ripped off his mask and ran up to me.
“You don’t have to rush. Take your time,” he said.
“He wants me to pitch to that?” I motioned to the big man in the circle. He was swinging the bat as though he wanted to kill something with it.
“It’s Bo, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, you’re Billy Gaines. I feel like I know you.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, television - ain’t it something?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I answered