Bombs away

Perhaps this will be self therapeutic. The memories contained below were jogged by a conversation with the greatest pitcher to ever throw for the Dublin Hurricanes, Joe Miklich. We were talking, pitcher to pitcher, about the biggest home runs we had ever given up. For a pitcher, giving up a home run is the worst of the worst. It’s a brutal feeling. Personally, I actually feel flush in the face immediately after the jack, the bomb, the moon shot.

There is nothing worse than having to wait while the batter rounds the bases

Just a home run? It is much more than that. When someone goes big fly on you, your entire world crashes in around you for a few seconds. You become the loneliest person on the planet as you stand on the mound, completely helpless to do anything about what just happened.

How are you supposed to act? Personally I look for the ball straight away. Practically demand it off the umpire. A new ball, of course. The old one would be navigating its way towards Peru at that stage.

Thankfully, as a pitcher, I am blessed playing in the Irish Baseball League. There simply are not many home runs hit. The Dublin Hurricanes, by way of example, are one of the better hitting squads and so far this season have two bombs. Tom Kelley, the all time home run leader in the Irish Baseball League with 9, hit a big fly in Prague and last Sunday Captain Steve Divito hit a big blast up in Belfast in the Hurricanes double header sweep over the Northstars.

There are a number of factors that keep the home run numbers down in the Irish Baseball League. First of all, the beautiful O’Malley fields are the epitome of a ‘Pitchers ball park’. The dimensions are enormous, the centre point of the centre field fence is rumoured to be 420 feet from home plate. Plus, slightly uphill. There is often a heavy wind blowing in on the batter too. The field is beautiful, and a real God-Send to Irish baseball, but my word is it a pitchers ball park.

Secondly, Irish baseball made a curious decision to switch to wood bats recently. Wonderful for the pitchers in the league, not so much for the treasurer. Baseball Ireland spent six thousand euros on wood bats prior to the ’08 season. The wood bats have definitely shaved a few points of the ERAs of the pitchers in the league.

Simply put, home runs are a rarity in the Irish Baseball League, The all time leader, who has played in the league since 1997, has 9! Also, the all time innings pitched leader has given up 9, that in itself speaks volumes for how hard it is to go yard in Corcaigh Park.

And yet still, when they go out, goodness gracious does it feel like an irate mule kicked you in the stomach!

My top four (Bottom four, maybe?!) were all suitably painful.

4. Against England U21 in 1999
3. Baseball Ireland Spring Blitz 2005
2. Against Finland in 2000
1. Against Croatia in 2006

Against England U21 in 1999
This took place at the annual Croydon Invitational tournament in Croydon, London. The Irish National Baseball team attended several of these, often as a tune up before a European Championships. In '99 we were preparing for the tournament in Croatia to be held in 2000. For one of the Saturday games we took on the England U21 team, who had a Major League Baseball envoy on their coaching staff. MLBI rules state clearly no MLBI coach can actually play for the team he is assigned to. Naturally, the UK U21 coach ignored this and played first base and batted third. He was in his thirties at the time and clearly had excellent skills.

I retired the first two batters of the game. Up he stepped. Sean Mitchell, our catcher, wandered out to the mound to me. The conversation went something like this;

Sean; ''Two outs, no need to get fancy, base open, this guy can swing, let's not chance anything.''
Cormac; ''Okay.''

First pitch, down the pipe, big swing, big home run. It was a moon shot to right field that cleared the outfield hedge fence by about twenty feet. It had to travel about 450 feet, and that's a relatively conservative estimate.

Our coach was furious. Words were exchanged. I don't remember my physical reaction, I imagine I froze, probably looked very stunned. I do remember thinking, 'Wow, he hit that a long way.' And, he did.

Baseball Ireland Spring Blitz 2005
This one came in the opening blitz of the season, a season where the Hurricanes eventually came out on top, winning the Irish Baseball League for the second time. The blitz was a busy affair, so much so that we had to use make shift fields for some of the games. We took on our great rivals the Spartans on one of those. The ground rules were completely asinine, including one where anything hit over a foot path about 220 feet to the right was a home run. During the game John Dillon of the Spartans hit a routine pop fly to right with two runners on. Our right fielder camped under it, caught it, and threw it back in, the runners didn't even bother trying to advance it was so shallow. Yet still, the Umpire called, 'Home Run!' The ball had gone just over that foot path. Cheapest, ugliest and most annoying home run, ever. A three run 'shot' to boot.

Against Finland in 2000
Maybe I should pay more attention to Sean Mitchell. That's probably the message of this piece. If there is an underlying message. This one came in the heat of the European Championships in Croatia. It was a steamy hot day, and this was my first ever start for the Irish National Baseball Team. The game was going okay, we were only down 0-2 when the big, young Finnish first base man stepped to the plate. I knew from our scouting that he was a semi professional hockey player, a real athlete. Our catcher, Sean Mitchell, ambled out to me, sweat dripping from his brow. The conversation went a little like this.

Sean; 'Good hitter'
Cormac; 'Yeah i'll be careful'

The young Finnish kid didn't hang around. First pitch, bang, gone, and not just gone, really g-o-n-e. This was easily the biggest home run I have ever given up. Scratch that, it was the longest home run I have ever seen in person, including Major League games I have been at. Just so happens I had one of the best seats in the house for this one. It left his bat like an Exocet Missile, piercing through the hot summer sky, rising all the time as it left the yard. It flew over the fence, clearing it by a good twenty five feet, and came to rest in some random Croatian back garden.

My head started spinning, I felt weak at the knees and I could feel my face go flush. It was humiliating. I felt like the smallest person in the world. Only when the umpire tossed me a new ball did I start to feel human again. All you can do is throw another pitch, try and get back into a rhythm.

After the game we debated long and hard as to how far the ball travelled, we finally decided about 450 feet. Of course, no one actually retrieved it, so, it could still be going for all we know. He certainly hit it hard enough.

Against Croatia in 2006
This one was just no fun at all. In no way shape or form was this enjoyable. Ireland made the final of the 2006 European Championships, against Croatia. We played hard but perhaps ran out of steam after shocking the host Belgians 4-1 just days before. Croatia beat us up. They knocked out our valiant starter (Chris Gannon who was speechless after the game he was so tired) and Coach Houston went to me in the bullpen.

First batter up, Jason Hoyte, our talented catcher, called for a fastball inside. I left it over the plate, he jacked it 350 to left, but just foul.

I tried something offspeed, and missed the plate badly. Next pitch, he connected. He blasted the ball to deep left, it cleared the fence with ease. What happened was ugly as the ignorant Croatians crowded home plate waiting to congratulate their slugger. In doing this several of them jostled with Jason. No class whatsoever.

So there they are. The three most painful jacks I have given up. If you are a pitcher, you know how empty and painful it feels. Sometimes the situation can be funny, in a self depreciating way, but you are always guaranteed those few moments of stomach-punch uneasiness.

This much is true, there's nothing in life like giving up that big fly.