THE NEWBERG REPORT — SEPTEMBER 8, 2007
The day started well for 23-year-old Luis Mendoza, who learned he would be getting an emergency start in place of Kason Gabbard, who was nursing a blister on his pitching hand. Mendoza got a surprise call to the big leagues on Wednesday, but was not assured of so much as an appearance this month.
Think he was disappointed when he took a Nick Swisher rifle shot off his left knee in the second inning, dropping him in a heap to the ground for a couple minutes before he talked his way into staying in the game, but for just another two batters?
Sure. But in looking back at those four groundouts and two flies (both of which followed the Swisher missile), and the 21 strikes out of 30 pitches, including 9 of 11 to the game’s first hitter, Shannon Stewart, Mendoza can certainly take solace in the job he did and the guts he showed — not to mention that surprising fastball which touched 94, and the eye-opening, filthy sink.
And when it comes right down to it, how disappointed could Mendoza be? The man who has yet to play in AAA has now pitched in the major leagues, and left the game in the hands of his teammates without allowing the other guys to score, a game that his team would ultimately win.
The day started well for 10-year-old Ryan Newberg, who learned first thing that his morning would kick off with an unexpected 90-minute batting session with a major league ballplayer. Up from Austin for the weekend, Ryan knew about a couple other things we had in store. But not that.
Think he was disappointed when the Catch in the Outfield event in the middle of the afternoon got canceled because a handful of Oakland hitters decided they needed batting practice at 2:00?
Sure. But when those of us scheduled to participate in the Catch got rerouted to another Rangers function going on at the same time, a Q&A and autograph session with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Murphy, and Travis Metcalf, not to mention Rusty Greer and Jim Sundberg, Ryan was treated to an experience he’s unlikely to forget, along with his brother Jake, his cousins Erica and Max, and his new buds Cooper and Keaton.
And Ryan’s day ended at a ballgame, surrounded by 20 family members and thoughts, undoubtedly, about how much better his second round of soft-toss went this morning than his first, about how he took a big leaguer’s instruction and made it work for him.
I admit that part of what makes baseball such a fundamental part of my core is a vicarious impulse, an undertow that may never go away which reminds me that, when I was 10 years old, I wanted to be that guy running down a shot in the hole or laser in the gap, that guy charging a skidding line drive in the outfield as the runner on second barreled toward third with the audacity to try and take the plate, that guy who might make enough of a difference once or twice at the plate or on the bases to help lock down a win. I think that will always be there for me.
But what’s also vicariously available to us as baseball fans is that opportunity not to have to think back to when we were 10 but to see another 10-year-old experiencing a day like today that might just fuel his own dream enough that it moves forward with just a little more momentum, just a little more purpose.
And what’s also vicariously there for the taking is for a 38-year-old, and for the 10-year-old he got to hang with for a day, with baseball as the bond, to watch a 23-year-old pitcher cross that elusive threshold between chasing a lifelong dream, and realizing it, even if briefly, and not without a little adversity sprinkled in.
I don’t know where Luis Mendoza was when the fireworks show went on after Texas 7, Oakland 3, and I don’t know what was going on in Ryan Newberg’s head as he watched it himself, three days before his 11th birthday. But I know where my head was, and that was thinking about how thankful I am for baseball and everything it gives me, how lucky I am to love the game, and how rewarding it often is, even if sometimes it’s vicariously realized.