My 9-year old son and I play a lot of Wiffle Ball in the front yard. This is mainly because he’s long since outgrown playing baseball in the front yard. I have no interest in the broken windows that would result. And there’s just not enough space. When we bought this house, I thought our large backyard would become the ballfield of choice, but that was before I knew it was actually wetlands with topsoil dumped in it by a previous owner. So, we stick to the front yard.
Anyway, we tend to go at it for hours and, as he’s gotten bigger and better, I’ve had to learn more pitches and actually, you know, pitch to have any chance of getting him out. This is a kid who has had me out in the yard playing t-ball, baseball, or Wiffle Ball since he was 2-years old. I went to school on line in self defense. At the moment, I throw a fastball, a changeup, a curveball, and a screwball. The screwball is the pitch that I’m still learning to control. Some days, I can throw all four for strikes. But, some days, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing because none of it works or he’s just having a good day and laying off the balls and crushing anything in the strike zone. In both cases I keep looking over my shoulder, but there’s never anyone warming in the bullpen and I just have to try to keep my frustration in check (I’m playing with my son. It doesn’t matter that he’s up 15-1. AUUGGGH! There goes another 3-run bomb! I’m playing with my son. This is fun. I’m having fun.) and find a way out.
Yesterday we were both on our game: pitching, hitting, and fielding well. I had an early lead, but he came back and it was Dad 3 – Son 2 in the top of the 4th when he stepped into the right hand batters box (We both switch hit to keep it interesting, although he’s a legitimate switch hitter and I’m pretty weak as a lefty.). Here’s a record of what ensued:
- First pitch. A standard bit of pitching wisdom is that you should establish the fastball first and so I begin with that. I throw up and in a bit more than intended. It might even be a ball, but he swings and fouls it off. Strike 1. 0 balls, 1 strike.
- Second pitch. I expect him to look for something more in the middle now. He doesn’t usually swing at marginal pitches twice in a row. I go to the changeup, right down the middle. It’s a good one, dropping sharply as it approaches the plate. He swings over the top of it. Strike 2. 0 balls, 2 strikes and I’m not relaxing or saying anything about it because that’s usually when he jacks one over the bushes for a home run.
- Third pitch. I change speeds and location again, going to a high fastball in the middle of the zone and hoping he’ll swing late. But he sees it and reacts quickly, fouling the pitch off. Excellent job of protecting the plate on his part. He knows that once you have 2 strikes on you, you have to swing at anything that might be a strike. The count hangs at 0-2.
- Fourth pitch. Ok. Can’t throw him fastballs back-to-back because he saw that last one so well. I go back to the changeup in the middle that he bit on before. I’ve recorded a lot of strike outs on him with that changeup. But he’s gotten a lot better at hitting it and, sure enough, this time he drops down like Dustin Pedroia and slaps it foul. Another great job as a hitter and we’re still at 0-2.
- Fifth pitch. I just repeated a pitch sequence. If he’s keeping track (and that’s not really an if), he’s expecting a fastball up in the zone again. I go with the fastball, but change the location. I put it in the middle, but darting to the outside edge, hoping he’ll chase it. I miss and he watches it sail wide for ball 1 and now the count is 1-2.
- Sixth pitch. I’m still ahead in the pitch count, but it doesn’t feel like it. He’s fouled a couple off and is seeing everything well. I think for a moment and decide it’s time to throw something completely different. I snap off a curveball that starts out heading right at him and then breaks down and into the strike zone. He twitches, unsure what to do as it passes. Then he smirks and nods in agreement as I call it, “Strike three.”
We pause the game for a moment to laugh and talk it over. It was a really solid at-bat on his part, forcing me to throw 4 more pitches after he was down 0-2. I had to be careful and think about what I was throwing with each pitch. In the end, I recorded the out, but he made me work for it.
And the next time I’ll probably be watching the ball go over the bushes again.