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My Experience With Humiliation, Redemption Then Closure

Updated on November 20, 2016
I'm about to feel the weight of an entire team upon my shoulders by season's end.
I'm about to feel the weight of an entire team upon my shoulders by season's end. | Source

This is not about "a stupid game."

This is a story about our youth slowly fading away until all that's left is a fond memory.

hu·mil·i·ate: (h)yo͞oˈmilēˌāt/verb - 1. To make (someone) feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, especially publicly. synonyms: embarrass, mortify, humble, shame, disgrace.

Humiliation. I had never experienced it before that day. Of course, I'm ten so I hadn't experienced much at all yet. It's my second year of Little League and Dad was my coach. Second half of the season, Pop gives me a try at pitching and we both find out I can just about throw it past everyone. So when it came time for the championship game, he chose me over our 11 year old pitcher. I had been nearly invincible through six games.

So the stage was set at County Park in Simi Valley, California and quite a large crowd of about 200 had turned out. Right away I'm finding out these guys are good. The Yankees. It always seems like it's the Yankees as the nemesis to all. A hit, another hit and I was visibly shaken to begin the game. What's with these guys? They aren't striking out like most all my opponents did during the season.

I walk the next guy to load the bases and the clean up hitter is up. What happened next was so traumatic, that I can even remember who was at bat to this day over 40 years later - John Hopkins. How could I ever forget a name like that even if I had tried!


I'm Just A Kid And Act Like One

OK, pull yourself together, I tell myself. The team is relying upon me. We wore flannel uniforms and used wooden bats back then. I windup, lean back, throw it as hard as I can and then the most unmistakably loud sound of solid contact when an ash wood bat connects with a leather baseball.

"CRACK!!" My head jerks straight up into the air at an unfamiliar angle to me. I seemingly surrealistically watch this high flying missile leave the park in a hurry and disappear into the huge dark green clump of oak trees beyond left field! A GRAND SLAM! 4 batters, 4 runs!

I'm in shock and try to stifle my sobbing, but I just can't. I'm totally coming apart at the seams. So mad that I windup, lean back, and aim right for the number on the next batter's back through blurry eyes. This'll teach 'em to dig in on me in that batter's box. An audible THUMP!! resonates as he collapses in the dirt. Bullseye.

Next batter up, I thump him with a fastball right in the numbers for good measure, too. Wiping my wet eyes, I get the ball back quickly and the third batter narrowly ducks my fastball. Dad calls time, walks out to the mound and quietly escorts me back to the dugout. I drop the ball in the soft dirt next to me hating baseball at that moment.

Poor guy. He must have been so embarrassed. Not for my performance but for the way I handled it. Probably regretting his decision too, putting so much pressure on his own son like that. But I WAS the logical choice. He doesn't say a word (and for the rest of the day) to me as we sit at opposite ends of the wooden bench in the dugout. Of course, we lost. THIS must be what it feels like. Yes, this was the first time I had ever experienced HUMILIATION.

That championship season and once again, tremendous pressure has been thrust upon me
That championship season and once again, tremendous pressure has been thrust upon me | Source

Not Going To Assume Anything Today

My sister is bothering me in the back seat of the family car and I go into a rage on her. "MOM! What is Dan's problem?" she whines. "Leave him alone." she says while driving us to County Park in Santa Susana, California, "He's just nervous."

What responsibilities did you have as a kid at 10 or 11 years old? Maybe clean your room, feed your pet or you might have to “look after your little sister or brother” and even then in what capacity really? When your peers, your teammates on your Little League team are relying upon you to pitch the championship game, in front of a crowd of people you mostly knew, THAT’S ASKING LOT and I had come to pieces the season before. We lost and I felt I had let everyone down.

Now, a year later I was given a reprieve to redeem myself today. I had practiced obsessively, relentlessly and so often that my sisters later told me they had asked Mom if I wasn’t slightly autistic. I found time to throw a tennis ball against our side wall 3, 4, 500 times nearly every day until my arm was sore. Now the burden of responsibility was upon my skinny shoulders once again exactly one year later. You usually only get one chance at redemption. Today is that day.


Athletes Call It "Being In A Zone"

But this time I’m prepared, as I took the mound for the Simi-Santa Susana American Little League Pilots in this playoff game. My mind is SO FOCUSED now that I strangely feel as though I'm boxed into some kind of weird trance-like self induced hypnotic state. I just FEEL DIFFERENT. A tunnel vision of complete concentration. This is what athletes will tell you about literally feeling "in a zone." Your muscle memory takes over and your mental focus has completely shut out every outside distraction.

First inning, I strike out all three batters on nine pitches. The next inning I do the same. I’m not speaking to any of my teammates when I go to sit alone at the far end of the bench. The third and fourth innings are the same as every batter I face I strike him out with relative ease. Twelve Oriole batters up, twelve down by strike out in a row up to this point! I’m aware it’s me doing it but I had never done anything like this before with seemingly so little effort. Something has taken over my mind and my body. I barely sense the crowd of about 150 cheering even louder with every batter I strike out.

I saw this game on live TV and right from that moment on, I decided I was going to emulate Bob Gibson's pitching style

Bob Gibson's World Series record 17 strikeouts is still the standard of excellence in a big game
Bob Gibson's World Series record 17 strikeouts is still the standard of excellence in a big game | Source
A confident ball player all my life here I'm the youngest on a team that played 45 to 50 games all throughout Los Angeles and Ventura County.  SIMI TRAVELING TEAM
A confident ball player all my life here I'm the youngest on a team that played 45 to 50 games all throughout Los Angeles and Ventura County. SIMI TRAVELING TEAM | Source

First batter of the fifth inning, I start to realize a strange sense of invincibility. So I close my eyes, wind up and throw it as hard as I can and the ball zips right down the middle smacking into my catcher, Ernie Johnson's mitt. Strike three! That's 13! Then number 14 whiffs and the third batter up in the inning also strikes out. 15 batters up, 15 batters struck out! Three more outs to go.

The score is moot at this point because we're winning 15-0. I can remember only pitching in that game and I can't recall a single at bat of mine nor just about anything else up to that point.


Where Did That Strange Feeling Go?

Suddenly, as I'm sitting alone at the far end of the dugout bench, I sense that "it's" gone. "The zone" which I was in has vanished. I'm more fully aware of my surroundings. I can feel my zen-like state has mysteriously left me just before the start of this last inning.

So as I just stood out there on the mound to begin the sixth inning, looking at my surroundings and was wondering where that weird feeling went to. I kept standing there. The minutes passed.

Now for the first time that day, I'm consciously aware that everyone on the field and in the stands are watching me, awaiting my next move. They're crowded right up against the chain link backstop screen. I catch a glimpse of my sister for the first time since the game began and she's smiling broadly.

Finally the umpire yells, "C'mon! Let's go, pitcher!" Fatigue has apparently set in and that uber-confident trance-like feeling has succumbed to exhaustion. Every physical movement is a huge effort. I’m now finally distracted by thoughts and doubts.

On the 16th batter I go to three balls (and two strikes) for the first time all day. Then I fire a pitch into the dirt. I'd walked him. I still have a no-hitter but my chance for the rarest of rare games, a perfect, PERFECT GAME is gone. Concentrate, I tell myself. Get that feeling back. But it's gone. At least for today.

The next batter is the first to actually hit a ball into fair territory, a weak pop up towards first base. I race over, spear it in midair on a dead run and quickly toss the ball to our first baseman, Jerry Doyle all in one motion, doubling off the runner who had started towards second base then froze. Double play! I had made EVERY OUT IN THE GAME up until then (no dropped third strike rule at this level. Pitcher is credited with a putout on a strikeout) when I got my 16th putout and an assist on this play.

My last pitch of the game to the 18th batter (which is the minimum batters allowed in a six inning game) is popped up along the first base foul line. I yell to no other fielder anywhere near me, "I GOT IT! I GOT IT! I GOT IT!"

The batter abruptly stops running because I had entered his path to first and could see I was going to collide with him. *SMACK!* the ball settles into my mitt. THREE OUTS! My teammates mob me then pick me up onto their shoulders. After maybe five minutes I have a brief moment to myself and notice I'm still clutching the ball tightly in my glove. The same ball I have over 45 years later.

{click on link below for 30 seconds of how I felt that day.}

Bob Gibson's record setting 17K (on youtube.com)

1993 season one in N.A.B.A. Open League.

N.A.B.A. National Adult Baseball Association semi-pro SIMI VALLEY INDIANS  class A Open League
N.A.B.A. National Adult Baseball Association semi-pro SIMI VALLEY INDIANS class A Open League | Source

My Body Is Telling Me Enough Is Enough

Fast forward 28 years. I'm washed up at 39 and I know it. I threw over 140 pitches in our season finale two months ago and couldn't even lift my arm to comb my hair for a week afterward. But my teammates want me to play one last semi-pro Winter League season coming up because they still rely on me in other ways even though I'm the oldest.

Too painful to pitch, I play shortstop or first base all season. My lifetime National Adult Baseball Association pitching stats are stuck on 6 wins 6 losses, 199 strikeouts 199 innings in four previous seasons. We're up 10-0 after five innings in a N.A.B.A. Open League semi-final game in Lancaster (CA.) I'm not aware my manager and the team have secret plans for me.

My Teammates Understand

"Warm up, Big D. Yer pitchin' this inning!" J.R., my manager says to me but he doesn't see my shocked expression for just a split second. I don't argue and head to the bullpen. My arm feels like it got run over by a train all season long.

But once I enter the game, the pain is forgotten. I manage to get the first two batters to hit out with my sidearm delivery then with a loud, painful grunt, throwing it as hard as I could, I strikeout the last batter. 200! Head down, I turn to walk off the field for the last time as A PITCHER and a genuine feeling of sadness is suddenly taking over me because pitching is something I had done nearly all my life. Now, I realize, it has finally come to a fitting end.

I trudge towards the dugout looking only at my shoe tops taking each measured step in the infield dirt. I think back to my first time at 10 years old and now it's over. I think back to watching Bob Gibson strikeout nearly everybody in game one of the 1968 World Series and how I had watched the entire game.

How I copied his wind-up, his delivery, his mean, intimidating demeanor on the mound from that moment on. How he had trudged off the field still focused not celebrating his record setting 17 strikeout performance until his team mobbed him with elation. Only then did he smile and pull himself out of his "game face" focus.

I'm thinking about it all at once in one jumbled baseball hurtling through time and space completely lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, before I reached the foul line, the entire team stops me to swarm me with pats on the back, handshakes and my catcher Paul Rodriguez puts his arm around me like I had just won the World Series. It felt like what Bob Gibson must have experienced when I had watched him on live TV decades ago. What a bunch of great guys I played for! The other team stop to observe this even.

Later, my manager, J.R. quietly gives me the ball with a "200" on it and signed by everyone. I can feel my teammate's gaze upon me as I read each and every signature with a smile on my face. I look over and they're all smiling back at me. For they knew... yes, they knew what it meant to me. It was the end of the trail for this ol' warrior.

DWM

MVP of the 1996 NABA Ventura County All-Star game at Moorpark College. North vs South. Oldest in the game at 37. Winning pitcher 6 2/3 inns pitched 7 ks, got 2

That's my manager, J.R. Caviness handing me the MVP Award in the '96 NABA All Star Game at Moorpark College (CA)
That's my manager, J.R. Caviness handing me the MVP Award in the '96 NABA All Star Game at Moorpark College (CA) | Source

This is how I felt that playoff game when I was eleven years old. Striking out nearly everyone! Then 28 years later as I leave the field for the last time

Have you ever been "in a zone?" Tell us. Comments are welcomed

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  • Dan W Miller profile image
    Author

    Dan W Miller 9 months ago from Southern California now living in Phoenix

    Such odd feelings I never really gave thought to until years later. The relentless obsession to not let something like my public collapse ever happen again. The slow, daily preparation in case I ever got the opportunity. Then the pure luck of BEING ABLE TO have that chance again at (virtually) the same age + 365 days later and, of course, the eerie feeling of being disconnected yet SO CONNECTED that I was nearly in another dimension I have experienced, maybe, 3, 4 times in my long and active participation in sports endeavors.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 11 months ago from Queensland Australia

    A very interesting and enjoyable read Dan. It was great that you overcame your humiliation the previous year to have an unforgetable game pitching against the Orioles. Baseball isn't such a big sport here in Australia yet, but I do enjoy watching it, and played a little at school. Good hub.

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