She Throws Like a Boy
The mystery of the Vinny Castilla baseball
I have no idea if genetics and baseball are in any way connected. Part of my noggin says that it is impossible while another part is whispering, “Just wait and see.”
My father was a natural born athlete. He excelled at every sport he played. His favorite sport, though, was baseball. He first learned baseball playing stick-ball in the streets of the Polish ghetto of Pittsburgh, where he was born. If there was no ball available rocks were thrown and the batter with a stick might hit a home run that lands on and cracks the windshield of some parked car, at which point everyone ran away as fast as possible — to resume their game on a different street.
My father’s life-long dream was to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He worked hard towards that dream and he had tried out for the team a few times without being chosen. But he never gave up….
That is, until the United States Government sent him a draft notice. His services were needed in the great fight against fascism in Europe; “Dubya, dubya two,” as some Texans called it. His baseball dreams were snatched away.
My father’s dreams of pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates were lost and he eventually lived out his dreams watching baseball on TV sitting in his Lazy-Boy recliner. And, of course, he could not simply watch baseball on TV without producing a non-stop running commentary on all the action. My father was a quiet man but if a baseball game was on TV his mouth was going non-stop. As soon as a baseball game commenced on TV he immediately morphed into a whole different persona than the one he exuded the rest of the time. For me, he became the voice of baseball.
Being a son of this baseball freak, I naturally picked some of it up. If it has anything to do with genetics, I just can’t say. I was never a great player but I became a pretty good watcher of the game. And I always hear my father in the background of my noggin. I always seem to know what he is going to say about something.
I only played catch with my father maybe a half-dozen times during my entire childhood. He was a busy man. As a father myself, I played catch with my daughter a hundred times more often than I ever played catch with my dad.
For someone like myself who was inculcated to baseball as a small boy thanks to my father, I felt it important somehow that I pass on the family sport to my offspring. It was a part of me that I wanted to share with her.
When my daughter was young it was a profound joy to find out that she threw like a boy. She did not throw like a girl! I am guessing that every male stricken with the baseball virus dreams of playing catch with their son. But I never had a son. I had a girl.
And she threw like a boy! She threw and caught as though she had been a baseball player in a previous life or something. I used to play catch with my older brother when I was a kid and, let me tell you, he was a total baseball nerd compared to my daughter. Two humans wearing baseball gloves throwing a ball back and forth between themselves can be a profound act of love. And it can be a way for two people to learn a great deal about each other.
I spent many, many, many hours playing catch with my daughter. Those memories are forever etched into the skein of time and space. Everything I knew and experienced about baseball suddenly meant little compared to the simple act of throwing a baseball back and forth between a girl and her dad. A bond was created more powerful than Super Glue.
That’s how I remember it, anyway.
It was soon after we moved to Colorado that the relationship my daughter and I had to baseball took a serious turn. A brand new team was being created that would play out of Denver. I thought it would be cool to follow a team from its very inception. So my daughter and I became Colorado Rockies fans.
We watched Rockies games on TV together and I was amazed by how quickly she learned all the details of the game. She soon became a stat junkie. She knew every player’s batting average, home run count and RBI total. She kept up with the standings. She knew it all.
And she had a favorite player; Vinny Castilla. The Rockies’ third baseman, Vinny was born and raised in Mexico and he did not know a lick of English when he got a job in American Major League Baseball. Not only was he adorably cute — according to my daughter — but he was also a delight to listen to with his very thick accent and barely rudimentary grasp of English. No matter what he said you just had to smile or laugh. Oh, and he also had an irresistible smile — according to my daughter.
(Vinny went on to have a stellar career and is now considered one of the greatest Mexican players in Major League history.)
And then we got the news in the mail.
Our daughter had apparently won some contest. The envelop contained three tickets to a Rockies game and a letter explaining that our daughter won the chance to sit in the broadcast booth with the radio announcers and call one half inning of a game.
When our daughter came home from school we showed her the packet we got in the mail and we asked her what contest she entered in order to win.
“I was at Pizza Hut with my friends and there was this cardboard thingie that advertised a drawing to win a chance to be in the broadcast booth plus get free Rockies tickets for the whole family. So I filled out the slip of paper and dropped it in the box. And wow, I guess I won! How cool is that?”
Before I could agree with her, she continued, “You know, I have a secret to winning raffle drawings. Everyone fills out the slip and drops it in the box, right? What I do is I fill out the slip and then fold the slip of paper in half and then stick it in the box. I can imagine an arm and a hand of someone digging into all those slips of paper in order to pick one. All the slips will feel exactly the same except mine because mine is folded. The hand will automatically go with the slip that is somehow different than all the rest.”
Yup, that’s my girl. She has the mojo. I only know of one other drawing that she ever entered but she won that one, too, using the same methodology.
So the family ventured down out of the mountains to the big city to attend a baseball game. It would be very different than watching a game on TV.
But it was not the first time we took our daughter to a Major League baseball game. A few years earlier when we were living in the Pacific Northwest we took her to a Seattle Mariners game in the Kingdome. She was only five years old at the time.
I will forever remember her reaction after we walked up the ramp into the stadium. Upon reaching the railing that looked out over the domed stadium her eyes bugged out and she loudly exclaimed, “Oh my god! This is the biggest room I’ve ever seen!”
(Sadly, Ken Griffey Jr. struck out three times and the Mariners lost but that really did not matter.)
Not only was it her very first Major League baseball game but it was also her mother’s first game. I had already been to a few. My first live game came way back when I was in elementary school. I will never forget it. My dad took me and my brother to a game in Baltimore back when we were living in Maryland. I may have been a little kid but I will always remember seeing Frank Robinson hit a homer. He happened to be my hero at the time. I felt like I had witnessed some historic event.
I had been to a few live Major League baseball games and every time it was in the cheap seats. I never even came close to the inner sanctum of the broadcast booth. I needed an eleven-year-old girl to lead me to this sacred experience.
Am I lucky, or what?
We met with some “team representatives” and were shown to our seats in the cheap seats on the third deck of the visitor’s side of the field. We were told that about thirty minutes before my dazzling daughter was due to go on air that they would come and get us. By “us” they meant her and one parent. My wife and I did not even have to look at each other to know which parent would accompany our daughter into the sacred baseball zone. There was no question that it would be me because I was the one inflicted with the baseball virus. I do not recall her ever playing catch with our daughter. I cannot even picture her with a baseball glove on her hand.
The young female team representatives led my lucky daughter and I to the main third-deck concourse where we eventually came to an elevator. One of the representatives — the blond — pulled out a magic card that she swiped on some magic device. The elevator doors opened and we all entered.
It was a short elevator ride and soon we were walking down a sterile hallway. We came to a door atop which was a lighted sign that read, “On Air.”
The blonde representative smiled at the security guard in front of the door as she swiped her magic card on some machine on the wall. The door opened and we walked into the sacred space in which the baseball virus spreads around the world. It was center stage. It is where the game is brought to life to those not within the physical confines of the baseball park.
My daughter was promptly ripped away from me. That is how it felt to me for a few brief seconds, anyway. One representative took my daughter down a few steps to where the live broadcasters were while one representative held me back to inform me of all the “rules.”
First and foremost, I had to be quiet. I was not to make a sound. All I could do was watch.
I took a seat against the back wall of the broadcast booth. I looked down upon the backs of the two male broadcasters as well as the back of my daughter’s head. Beyond them I could see down onto the action on the field.
One of the broadcasters was talking to my daughter. He congratulated her on winning the contest and he ran through some of the fundamentals of calling the game. He pointed out the microphone in front of her and explained that she did not have to put her mouth right up to it. She simply had to speak normally and that they would cue her by asking her questions.
Then a light came on in the booth signaling that they were back from commercial and, “on air.”
One of the broadcasters immediately began speaking, “As we go into the bottom of the seventh inning the Rockies are down by one run but they have the meat of their order coming up. And to help us call this half-inning we have a special guest with us in the broadcast booth….”
The broadcaster introduced my daughter to the unseen audience then, as the first Rockies batter walked up to the plate, he asked her who her favorite Rockies player was.
Without hesitation, she replied, “Vinny Castilla. He’s arguably the best third baseman in the league right now…. plus he’s really cute.”
Since I could only see the backs of their heads I could not tell if the broadcasters were rolling their eyes.
As the broadcasters introduced the batters as they came to the plate my daughter would quickly interject with those batters’ current stats. One of the broadcasters turned around and looked at me with raised eyebrows.
I could tell that my daughter wanted to take over and call the inning without the help of the broadcasters and I could see that the broadcasters were slowly letting her do that. That is my daughter. No matter the size of the room she is in and no matter how many people are in that room, she invariably takes command of everything going on. She never ceases to amaze me.
There were two outs and runners on second and third base. As the next batter walked to the plate she immediately began talking before the broadcasters could even begin to say anything, “And now coming up to bat is the Rockies’ electric third baseman, Vinny Castilla. Most Rockies fans are familiar with Vinny’s home run power but they might not know that Vinny currently leads the entire league in doubles. A double right now would score both runners and put the Rockies in the lead….”
As soon as she said that Vinny swung at the first pitch and made solid contact with the ball sending it on a high arc towards center field. The ball hit off the wall and Vinny ended up on second base with a double, scoring both runners.
Both broadcasters turned around to look at me with opened mouths.
She continued, “And Vinny comes through again, putting the Rockies in the lead. Those were RBIs number 89 and 90 for Vinny and we still have plenty of season left. He is obviously going to end up with well over a hundred RBIs. And now the Rockies could use an insurance run and all we need is a single to drive Vinny home….”
As soon as she said that the next batter hit a single into right-center field scoring Vinny.
Both broadcasters were now speechless and my daughter called the rest of the inning by herself. When the inning was over and the “On Air” light went off my daughter and the two broadcasters stood up. Both broadcasters shook her hand then one of them came up the steps to me to shake my hand, “Wow, that was the best broadcasting I’ve ever witnessed from a kid. You must have really coached her.”
I put both hands up in the air and shook my head, “Oh no. I didn’t coach her one tiny bit. That was all her. She freaked me out as much as she freaked you guys out.”
“Really? Wow. You know, someday there will be a female broadcaster in Major League baseball and your daughter could easily be the one. Heck, she seems perfectly qualified right now.”
My daughter then came up to me and we hugged. For me, it was one of the most joyous hugs of my life. I was so proud of her.
A technician then came up to us and handed a cassette tape to my daughter, “Here is a tape of your wonderful performance. And thank you.”
The door to the broadcast booth then opened up. The blonde team representative held the door open while my daughter and I walked out into the hallway.
“Hey, I was listening and you really rocked in there. We have a special gift for you,” the representative reached into a little bag she was carrying and pulled out a baseball, turning it so that my daughter could see the writing on the ball, “It’s a baseball autographed by Vinny Castilla.”
My daughter took the baseball and held it and the cassette to her heart. She thanked the representative then turned to me. She was about to say something but she was speechless. She was almost never speechless. Of course, she did not have to say anything. I could feel the excitement radiating from her.
Along with all the dolphins and unicorns and picture frames and hair brushes and other girlie things, that autographed baseball stayed atop my daughter’s bedroom dresser for several years. She played softball in high school and she still watched an occasional ballgame with me and we still played catch on occasion but her interest in baseball started waning as the normal interests of a teenage girl took over her life. And then we moved and soon thereafter she moved out to live with her boyfriend whom she would subsequently marry and have two adorable daughters of her own with.
I was at my daughter’s house recently playing with my delightful granddaughters when I found myself thinking about baseball. I had the sudden realization that perhaps one of the subconscious reasons that I got into baseball with my daughter is because she never got to meet my father. He kicked the bucket five years before my daughter was born and never got to meet her. Maybe it was a way for me to vicariously introduce them through something my father loved, a way to pass down my father’s legacy.
That is when I realized how lucky I was that I am still alive to know and play with my granddaughters. They were still too young for baseballs and baseball gloves but will soon be of the same age as when their mother started playing catch with me. Do I try to keep the baseball thing alive in yet another new generation?
I had already been playing catch with the two girls, although it was not with a baseball but rather a soccer-sized pink plastic ball festooned with images of characters from the movie, Frozen. And guess what?
One of my granddaughters throws like a boy!
Putting my crayon down, I excused myself and went into the kitchen where my daughter was emptying the dishwasher.
“So when was the last time you watched a baseball game?” I asked her.
“Ha!” She looked up at the ceiling as though the answer was written up there, “Hmm, let’s see. I think it’s been twelve, maybe fourteen years ago. All I know is that the last time I watched baseball was with you.” She put some dishes in a cabinet then looked at me, “So when was the last time you watched baseball?”
“Well, I think it’s been about nine or ten years. I think I watched part of one season after you moved out but it just wasn’t fun anymore without you. I don’t have time for sports and I’m just sick of competition in general.”
“Exactly. Sports; who needs it?” She took out a handful of silverware and slammed shut the dishwasher. Pulling a drawer open she began putting the silverware into their proper places.
“So what ever happened to the Vinny Castilla baseball”
Finished with the silverware, she closed the drawer and turned to face me, “Golly, gee, I don’t know.”
“You didn’t sell it at that big yard sale we had when we moved, did you?”
“Oh no, no! I sold all my other balls and my glove and bat and all that crap but I specifically remember not selling that ball. I remember it was in the box of my dresser stuff that I took with me when I moved in with hubby. In fact, I think that is the last time I saw it. You know, it’s a bit of a mystery. I really don’t know whatever happened to it. Hmm, oh well, it was just a ball.”
Just then one of my granddaughters came into the kitchen, “Grandpa! You didn’t finish coloring!”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
My daughter asked, “So what’s with the sudden interest in baseball?”
“Oh, there’s no interest. It was just something that popped into the ole noggin. I was curious what happened to that baseball. We did have some fun for a while there, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, we did. I do remember it fondly but I’ve moved on. I practically never think about baseball anymore.”
“Yeah, me, too. I’m not sure why it suddenly popped into my head.”
The granddaughter grabbed my hand and started pulling. I smiled at my daughter and then let the granddaughter pull me back into the other room to the table where my other granddaughter was furiously coloring.