Column: Line Drives — Practice a chance to prove ability

[This is my column in the May 1 issue of The Commercial Review.]

I’m on a mission.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been battling myself as to whether or not I think I can still play baseball.

And what I mean by play is still field and hit a baseball.

Running the bases is a different story. I’ve lost a step since I last played baseball in 2001, and the bases are further than I remember. The 90 feet seems like a mile when you’re 28 and no longer 15.

After years of playing in adult softball leagues and a month of covering high school baseball, the itch to get back on a baseball diamond was one I didn’t think I’d be able to scratch.

I won’t get the opportunity to play in an actual game by any means, but at least getting on a the field, tossing around the ball, shagging some fly balls and taking some hacks at live pitching is what I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.

Wednesday was the first step toward proving to myself I’ve still got it.

As I approached Don E. Selvey field at Jay County High School yesterday with my equipment bag ready to practice with the Patriots’ baseball team, it brought back memories from my childhood days of stepping on the field for the first time of the year.

The excitement was real.

The Jay County coaching staff and a few select players were the only ones who knew about my plan to lace up the cleats and join the boys on the field. The reaction I got when the rest of the them figured out why I was at practice was priceless.

They were surprised when they saw me in my old softball uniform — pants and arm sleeve and all — rather than my normal casual outfit and a clipboard.

But I felt like I was at home.

I expected the first throw while warming up to hurt, since it generally takes me quite some time to get my throwing shoulder loose these days. But, it felt just fine as I slowly extended the distance between my partner, assistant coach Josh Selvey, and myself.

When practice got underway, I stood near the dugout so as to not get in the way. After all, they had to prepare for tonight’s game against Coldwater — I was there to just prove a point to myself.

I jogged out to center field to join the outfielders as they were practicing catching pop flies.

I hoped it would have been just like riding a bike, but I knew the hardest part was going to be judging the ball off the bat, especially with the overcast clouds.

“Don’t laugh too hard,” I told the guys when it was my turn, thinking I would embarrass myself.

Before the ball was hit in my direction, I could hear all of my coaches when I was younger speaking to me.

“Your first step should never be forward when fielding a fly ball.”

As it turns out, seeing the ball wasn’t as hard as I imagined.

Running back and to my right, I had the perfect line. But as the ball started to make its descent, it didn’t seem as if I was going to get to it.

About 20 feet from the fence, I stretched out my glove hand, making the running catch much to the surprise of those high school kids watching.

I think I proved myself.

The true test though, was if I still had what it takes to be as decent of a hitter as I was when I stopped playing more than a decade ago.

Again, letting the team take soft toss first since practice was more important for them than it was to me, I waited my turn to step in and take some hacks.

Taking batting practice was the initial reason I wanted to join the guys in the first place. Getting to field with them was just an added bonus.

The first time in the cage, I took a dozen or so swings, rifling the ball with every contact. Every so often I dropped my back shoulder and swung under the ball, but nine times out of 10 I had solid hits.

A few more times through the rotation, I got into a groove, ripping what looked to be solid base hits into the net.

Based on how I felt with each and every swing, I can come to the following conclusion — I’ve still got it.

With part one of my three-part test out of the way — taking batting practice, trying to hit a curveball and seeing if I can hit fastpitch softball — it’s time to try and pass the final two parts of my experiment.

Now, if I can only get some time in with the softball team.

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