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The Fastball Incident

By James Taylor

Have you ever noticed how if you put the word “Incident” after any noun it makes it sound like an important event? For example, “The Desk Incident,” or “The James Taylor Incident,” you can do it with just about anything. I mean, aren’t you just a little bit intrigued by “The Desk Incident”? I know you are asking yourself right now, “So, what happened with the desk? Was it an old desk? Was it a magic desk?” You just can’t help but being curious (and by the way, yes, it was a magic desk). As a general rule, anytime you see the word “incident” you can plan on there being a traumatic event. The “Fastball Incident” is no exception. Now that we have established the “incident” rule, we have the all-important question: Do I want to be part of an “incident”? Often times it can be great to be, or to be part of an incident. I for one, certainly wouldn’t mind being part of the “Miraculous Incident” or the “Heroic Incident.” On the other hand, you can count me out when it comes to the “Unfortunate Incident,” or, the “Embarrassing Incident.” So, when I became the lead actor in the “Fastball Incident,” I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to be known for this “Incident”. Heck, I’m still not sure. Before we get too engrossed in the “Fastball Incident” I had better give you a little background. I’m a ball player. I always have been. Ever since I was five, I ate, drank, slept, breathed, and played baseball, like there was nothing else in the world. Alright, I know what you are thinking: “Uh, James, you’re not a ballplayer, you are a computer geek.” Okay, I’ll rephrase that sentence and start over. I’m a ball player, or at least I was in my previous life. Ever since I was five, I ate, drank, slept, breathed, and played baseball, like there was nothing else in the world. There is nothing in the world like catching for a great pitcher and that is exactly what Jeff Tibbs was. Jeffrey was a year younger than me, and one of the most highly recruited athletes in the state’s history. Tibby—as we called him—had scholarship offers from every major university in the country, but more importantly, he had Major League scouts falling all over him. Jeff was about 6’3” with a slender, athletic build. His main draw for professional scouts was his ninety-three mile an hour fastball and his razor sharp mind for baseball. One of things that can make the difference between pitching a good game and pitching a great game is the pitcher/catcher relationship and how they compliment each other. Jeffrey and I complimented each other well; we had been playing baseball with each other since kindergarten and had been next door neighbors since we could walk. In a sense, I a little felt like his older brother and he was my over achieving, more successful, better looking, more talented younger brother who got all the attention

from the scouts and newspapers . And that is how I liked it. I didn’t care much for being the center of attention; I just wanted to play baseball. Well, to sum it up, Jeffrey was good and he knew it. In baseball, that is a very dangerous combination for a pitcher, a combination that you don’t want to face as a hitter. “Alright, c’mon now Tibby, throw it like you can, throw like you can kid,” I chattered from behind home plate. There is nothing in the world like baseball chatter, it is its own language, as eloquent as French and yet, as irritating as German. “Two on, no out, bring it to first infield. Groll, you’ve got the bunt, you’ve got the bunt big kid.” The new, plasticy smell of our uniforms was making me nauseous in the Arizona heat. We had arrived in Arizona earlier that week and had been playing some of the top teams in the country. The bleachers were jam packed with college and pro scouts armed with radar speed guns. Whenever Jeff threw the ball, the scouts – almost as if on queue – would raise their speed guns and lower their heads to look at how fast he was throwing. This is how I know exactly how fast the ball was going when the “Fastball Incident” occurred. This is why grown men have cried when I tell them this story. Now, up to this point this has probably sounded like a “high school glory days” story. This is where the story takes a dramatic turn for the worse--for me anyway. Jeffrey was pitching from the stretch. With his metal spikes digging into the rubber on the mound he leaned forward, squinting at the signs I was giving him. I could see the sweat glistening on his face. He casually wiped it with his mitt as he shifted the ball in his hand behind his back. It was the seventh inning and he was still throwing in the mid nineties. Squatting down, with my hand between my legs I was flashing Tibby the signs. Four, two, three, three, one. I wanted a fastball and I knew Tibby wanted to throw it. Jeffrey rocked back into his wind-up and hurled a fastball. “There is no way he hits this pitch, there is no…” suddenly my world went black. You know how in movies when someone gets knocked out and they regain consciousness slowly by blinking their eyes? It almost looks peaceful as they are coming to, whether they are lying on their back or in a hospital bed. Well, this was nothing like that. When I came to, it seemed like there was a noise of chaos and pain. Where did I get hit? It wasn’t in the head and it wasn’t with the bat. That would have at least been half glorious. Heck, if I had been hit in the head I would be proud to be part of the “Fastball Incident.” Unfortunately, the ball hit me about three feet below that. In the crotch, yeah, not so glorious.

What happened, or so I’ve been told, was the batter swung at Tibbs’ fastball, just barley nicking the ball. When the batter nicked the ball, it changed the trajectory of the baseball just enough that the ball went right under my glove hitting me square in the groin shattering my protective cup. Instantaneously I collapsed, my limp body falling forward on my face. There were a few people in the dugout and in the stands that honestly thought it killed me. Part of me wished it would have. When I came to, I remember seeing the Arizona State Baseball trainer leaning over me. It took me a moment to orient myself before I realized what was gong on. I was lying on my back with my legs sticking up at a forty-five degree angle and my cleats in the chest of the trainer. He then began pushing my knees into my chest, then he would straighten my legs and do it again. Dazed, I looked up at him. Why was he standing over me, why was yelling at me and good lans, what the heck was he doing with my legs? It seemed like there was so much noise, I couldn’t make sense of anything. I let my head drop back to the dirt, the next solid memory I have was being back in our hotel room stripped from the waist down with two ginormous bags of crushed ice plopped on my crotch. After a grueling and bumpy fifteen hour bus ride back home and coming to the realization that I would probably never have children, the real adventures began. For the next three weeks I wobbled around like a cowboy who had just been on a seven day ride. That is not where the humiliation and pain end, oh no. If it ended there, again, I would be okay, maybe even happy to be a part of that story. This is where the humiliation really begins Throughout my life I have a lot of broken bone “incidents.” Like the “Broken Wrist Incident” of ‘97, also known as the “Sledding Incident.” In brief, the “Broken Wrist Incident” occurred while on a day activity for a high school dance. My date and I were sledding down a steep hill out of control when I realized we were heading directly for a tree. Right before we hit the tree I instinctively jammed my foot into the snow throwing me into the tree and my date into a cloud of soft snow. At the time, I thought I was the toughest kid ever, a hero. When in reality it was just pure luck. The next Monday at school, I was so excited to show off my battle wounds. Needless to say, the “Fastball Incident” was nothing like this and I was certainly not going to be showing off battle wounds at school the next day. With broken bones – including the “Broken Wrist Incident” – there is a routine. It goes something like this. You go into the doctor’s office where a pretty nurse in her early twenties takes you into the exam room. She ooohs and aaahs at your broken wrist or whatever mangled bone it might be. You tell her “oh, this old thing, I didn’t even realize it was there let alone broken. It doesn’t even hurt,” all the while you are biting your cheek to divert your attention from the throbbing pain. You exchange playful banter while she x-rays your arm. Then after the doctor has put the cast on your arm she walks you to the door and flirtingly tells you to come back soon.

My first doctor’s visit after the “Fastball Incident” wasn’t quite that utopian. Oh, I got the gorgeous twenty something nurse alright and she was going to be doing an ultrasound, on my testicles. After I changed into my one-size-fits-all gown, I waited awkwardly on the ultrasound table. The lights were dimmed as if to set the mood. Oh, there was mood in there alright, one of shear and unbridled terror. I was crossing my fingers hoping for a male nurse, or at least an old decrepit one. But, deep down I knew, she would be the most beautiful nurse in the hospital, and she was. As she began the ultrasound there was an awkward and uncomfortable silence in the room. There were no ooohs or aaahs from the nurse like previous “incidents”. And I certainly wasn’t going to say “oh, this old thing, I didn’t even realize it was there let alone broken.” She finished the ultrasound and walked me back to the exam room. “So, uh,” I attempted. “Does this mean we’re dating?” She didn’t even laugh. The next day I was back in school and it definitely wasn’t going to be like the “Broken Wrist” incident. There would be no showing off of battle scars or acting the reluctant hero. My mission plan was that of escape and evading. I would escape and evade anyone who knew me, knew someone that knew me, might know me, or might know me in the future. This mission failed, of course, in a hurry. The first person I saw Andrea Wyss, the girl who became one of my best friend after we dated my junior year. Of course, I still had a secret crush on her. Which makes this next event even more tragic to a high school senior. Andrea knew I had been injured while playing baseball in Arizona. This was a relief for me, because I didn’t want to go through the awkward situation of trying to explain my injury to someone that I was so smitten over. My best friend on the baseball team–Bronson Tatton–had seen her at the grocery store the night we got home from Arizona and had informed her of the unfortunate incident (or so I was told). As she approached me in the hallway I nervously told myself okay, escape and evade the topic, escape and evade the topic. Of course, the first thing she brought up was the “Fastball Incident.” “I heard what happened, are you okay?” she asked in a concerned tone. Shrugging my shoulders, I responded “Oh yea, I’m fine…” Like a seasoned reporter, she asked a brutal follow up question. “So,” she said, “is it broken?” Oh, no, I thought, She didn’t just . . . I cleared my throat, “excuse me, what?” “Is it broken? Are you going to have surgery on it?” She stood there with an innocent look on her face waiting for an answer. A red flag went up; I knew something was not right. Andrea Wyss was about the most innocent a person the world had ever known. But that question was anything but innocent.

I just stood there, it could have been ten seconds, it could have been ten minutes I’m not sure. Suddenly, the bell rang. “Oh, I’ve got to go, I’ll talk to you later,” I ran--yup you guessed it--like a scared little girl. I later found out that to spare me humiliation, my friend Bronson had told Andrea that I had injured my knee, thus explaining her not-so-innocent questions. Now back to the original question. Do I want to be associated with an “incident” and more specifically the “Fastball Incident?” At the time, I can guarantee you I would have said no. In hindsight, sure, why not. The “Fastball Incident” has given me a few good laughs. Besides, “incidents” are what make life bearable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be standing in front of a ninety plus mile an hour fastball at the batting cages anytime soon. But I think I’ll smile more often and enjoy the adventures of life a little bit more. Like the “Baby Incident” that happened a few years later.