At one point in our lives, my brother Phil and I showed promise on the baseball diamond. He’s two years older and a lefty. He was a strong pitcher, one of the few hard-throwing southpaws in our small New Hampshire town. I was his most capable backstop. So, our Little League coaches pegged us as a natural battery.
Before I learned to read picture books, I learned to catch his pitching in the half-acre field next to our home. We had a mound, an outfield fence, 15-foot yellow foul poles, and boundless enthusiasm. The truth is, we threw so many pitches in that idyllic patch of grass and dirt that our shoulders were likely wrecked before we ever learned to toss curveballs.
When we started playing organized baseball together in the late ’90s, it was a natural fit: Phil was on the mound. I was behind the plate. And for a while, we were pretty darn good. Way leads on to way, though. We eventually played new positions for different teams and found other interests: Mountain biking, girls, basketball, different girls, tennis. Our baseball careers ended before we moved west for college.
Recently, though, the road led us back. In February, Phil moved to Denver from Austin, meaning we live together for the first time since 2009. Then three weeks later, before we could even fasten our seatbelts for a new era of adventures, the novel coronavirus ground the world to a sobering halt.
It’s tough to say precisely how the idea came about, but it certainly involved a few light beers and a cocksure declaration at a local bar. You know, back when local bars were a thing.
If we really commit to training, I bet we could throw 85 mph.
To be clear, there are only two people who actually think this is possible, and I’m one of them. Phil’s the other.
Our friends who know baseball initially offered little encouragement. One, who is a high school coach in Seattle, said we’re completely out of our minds. “You have no shot. You’re too old and you’ll hurt yourself.” Another bet every penny to his name we’d come up short.
But that was before the mayor and governor ordered us to stay home. In our idle time, we’ve built a mound—a good mound—in our backyard. We’ve established a consistent throwing program, we’re building up leg and core strength, and we’re studying Major and Minor League pitchers with perfect mechanics. It’s been humbling. Throwing fast in reality is a lot more difficult than it looks from a barstool when you haven’t toed the rubber in more than a decade.
As our self-quarantine wears on, we are growing stronger on the mound. And even some of our critics have softened, if only because Phil and I are the best thing in sports right now. “No one has told me I’m out of my mind since we’ve been quarantined,” Phil said recently. “Actually, now people seem excited that we’re trying to do something. I think people want to see us succeed.”
We’ve been posting regular updates to our joint Instagram account, and it’s true: people are rooting for us. “These posts are all that’s keeping me going,” one follower told us. “I love this content and need it daily,” wrote another.
But do we have a chance at even sniffing 85 mph from 60 feet and six inches of social distance? Honestly, neither of us know–and we won’t until we have a reliable radar gun tracking our velocity (it’s in the mail). At least one supportive-but-realistic baseball expert says 75 is probably attainable, maybe 80 if we lock in our mechanics.
But right now, we don’t care how far off we are. We live in a world where organized baseball doesn’t exist. A world where the Rockies opening day is postponed indefinitely. A world where if we wanted to go home and play catch in our old half-acre field, we can’t.
All we can do now is step into our small backyard in Denver, try to pump heat, and dream of a day when baseball returns, when ballparks across the country are once more filled with cheering fans whose biggest worry that day is the slant of the sun, the reliability of the bullpen, and the temperature of their beer.
We all need those dreams right now.
And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have kids of our own who will ask us what we did during the big coronavirus lockdown of 2020. No matter what that radar gun says during this quarantine, Phil and I will tell them: “We taught ourselves to hurl a baseball 85 miles an hour.”
What else would we say? Dreams are contagious too.