In The Bullpen

I just turned 45.

As is typical around this time of year, I think about the friends I grew up with. How easy it was to hang out with them. Easy, because the only real responsibility we had back then was deciding whose turn it was to steal the Bartle’s & James from a parental refrigerator. We’d gather at the edge of the woods, smashing the neck of each bottle with a rock. Drinking our flavored pomegranate daiquiris, while spitting out the tiny shards of glass that always seemed to remain afloat. We discussed the important things in life: Rock n’ Roll, girls and baseball.

Nowadays, my friends and I carve out time together around chiropractic procedures. My AC/DC songs have been replaced with Miles Davis tunes. The girls we talk about are usually our daughters, how each year we’d get ignored just a little bit more at the Father/Daughter dances.

Baseball is still mentioned. Although, that’s usually to complain about overly excessive contracts of underperforming infielders. Oh, and no more hiding in forests while drinking wine coolers, either.  These days, my friends and I prefer the inky dark colors and bold tannins of an aged Malbec. Or nestling ourselves in the comfort of plush, leather chairs while sipping frothy lattes, snickering at the baristas sporting two haircuts, and prattling on about the harmful effects of the pink and blue packets of Splenda. Last week we spent half an hour arguing over who had the most accurate blood pressure reading booths: CVS or Walgreens?

Yes, “father time” is cruel. But his callousness for creeping up without warning is simply unacceptable. And I find it more than a little alarming that I can not only spell sciatica, I can point to it and describe its varying degrees of pain in great detail.

Sure, my friends and I wake up with a crick in our necks. Occasionally, we squint to read signs. People call us “sir!” and we’ve been known to use – from time to time – our iPhone lights to read menus. We talk far too much about portfolios and mortgages and too little about the importance of marshmallows in a bowl of cereal. Eating pizza isn’t as much fun as it was when we were kids, either. Probably because we have to pay for it now – in cash, carbs and saturated fat.

But just like that inky Malbec, there’s a difference between being aged and being old. I had the chance to test that theory not long ago at a private event at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Standing atop the pitching mound in the Cardinal’s bullpen, I closed my eyes … breathed in the moment … made my stretch … and delivered a perfect strike to the Cardinal’s catcher waiting 60 feet 6 inches away.

My shoulder felt a little sore after I threw, and my elbow tinged slightly. But I hadn’t bounced the ball. I may have been a little rusty on the mound, but I wasn’t old. I wasn’t even aged. Standing there … smiling at my accomplishment, I heard laughter. The hundreds who gathered behind me waiting for their turn to pitch had watched me throw a perfect strike. They’d also read the radar gun. It was flashing “29 mph” in bright red.

I only got one pitch in that bullpen. But just like these past 45 years it was only a warm up. I’ll throw harder next time. And when I do, I’ll have my friends with me. My arm might still be rubbery, but I have every confidence the radar gun will match my age. After, of course, I eat my own personal Breakfast of Champions: Count Chocula with extra marshmallows.

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