We knew he was there. He would always just raise his garage about a third of the way and let his dog out on the driveway. You could hear a ballgame blaring from his plasma. The dog would sit there and we could see his ankles moving in the garage. My son and I would go out into the street every day and play catch, hoping he might raise his garage and give us a few pointers. He was a pitcher who had won a World Series and that was enough for us. In Florida you have a lot of people who used to be somebody, but we looked him up on the internet and he was the real thing. So we figured we had a week for him to come out.
It must have been the third day getting close to dusk when we heard the garage go up suddenly. The black Lab was still there on the driveway but the whir of the garage motor kept going and I knew he was coming out. He was a big man with thick tan legs and a cupped cigarette fuming from his hand. "Keep playing," was all he said and walked into the street past me and headed toward my son. "Move over a little," he said over his shoulder. I moved to the side and I watched while he moved my boy one way and another and adjusted his arm. Mostly he watched. He watched my twelve year old wind up and deliver fast balls and curve balls. It was getting toward dark when we collected in the street and he put the cigarette to his mouth.
"Always pick a spot," he began. "It doesn't matter about the batter. It is you and the spot. Pick the catchers knee or his elbow. Or pick the batters wrist. If you can, break the batters wrist." His light blue eyes crinkled. "When I was on the mound I didn't think about anything except the spot. I knew the batter expected me to throw him a fast ball and so then I would pick another spot and go with a breaking ball." He touched his temple. "You got to out think them. It's all about what they least expect you to do. The ball will go where your eyes go. I used to pick a guys emblem on his cap when I was throwing catch. Or when I was pitching, there was an imperfection sometimes in the back wall and I would aim for that spot."
"Another thing," he began after a moment. "Only pitch the way you want to pitch. If the catcher tells you a fast ball and you want to throw a breaking ball, let him know. Coach would get all over me about not throwing what he wanted. I always threw the way I wanted and told the coach I didn't get the signal. " He flared his cigarette again. His hands were large. "I always used two fingers on the ball for my fast ball, see, but if I put three fingers on it, the ball slowed down about seven miles an hour. That always threw them off. "
He held the ball up to the street light.
"Another thing. Don't ever let the bastards see the ball. I always kept it in my mitt. It makes them wonder where it is. It's your game, not theirs. They are getting paid to hit it and you're getting paid to get it by them. " He held the ball out to my son. "And if they get hold of your fast ball and blast it out of the park. Then just shrug and go, "boy they sure got hold of that sonofabtich. But never think down. Always stay positive. Even if they hit it out of the park, put a positive spin on it. That way you are always playing for the better. Even if I made a lousy pitch, I tried to think how I could make it better."
He looked at my son. "It's like hitting a guy. You got to come at him with your body. Throw a punch. That way you put your whole body behind the ball. It's you or him." His dog waddled over and sat down. "It comes down to this . You have two kinds of players....those that want to learn and the rock heads. A lot of guys can pitch one hundred miles an hour. I pitched a steady ninety seven all through my twenty years in the majors. But that's not enough. Lot of guys have talent...you got to have more than that."
We could hear the crickets now and the bats flying over the bungalows.
"The rock heads never make it. They can pitch a hundred mile an hour fast ball but that's not enough. You got to learn. If you can't learn then it doesn'tmatter how much talent you have." I looked at my son with his eyes glued to this tall man in the street. "I knew a kid once. Had the fastest breaking ball I ever saw. I told him he was sitting on a million bucks. He was major league material. I even agreed to coach him his senior year in highschool. " He paused. "I go out to his school and I look at the coach and ask him where this kid is...Bill I think his name was." The coach shook his head and said he didn't come out. " I said what...whadday mean. "The coach said, nope, he wanted to spend time with his girlfriend. The pitcher shook his head and looked at me. "Can you beat that, a guy with a million dollar arm wants to spend time with his girlfriend. Well he never did anything. No scholarship, nothing. I think he ended up selling insurance."
He called his dog and looked at my son again. It was nearly dark now and he dropped his cigarette to the street.
"I told his father his son made the biggest mistake of his life...."
He shrugged and tossed my son the baseball.
"Like I said," he called, walking back toward his garage with his dog.
"You got to pick a spot."