Ted Williams used to say hitting can be improved at almost any level. Well, Ted Williams also didn't see me try to hit off Mariano Rivera.
A couple of weeks ago, when my friends over at New Era invited me to stop by Yankee Stadium and hit a few pitches with the 13-time all-star pitcher, I couldn't say no. Even as a Red Sox fan, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I was gonna meet Mo! I took it all very seriously. I went with a friend to the batting cages at Astoria Sports Complex. Once I got the hang of it, I was hitting balls at a solid 55 mph. I felt sore but ready to face the retired Yankee. It's not like he was going to throw his usual 95 mph balls. Bring. It. On.
Once I got to the stadium's cages, I realized I had taken the completely wrong philosophy from The Science of Hitting. Indeed, the more appropriate Williams-ism for me would probably be his theory that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. It becomes even harder when you try to get away with wearing a Sox shirt in front of Rivera himself. Still, I put on my batting helmet, stuck a GoPro camera on my head, and went to work. It was like watching those lion cubs from the National Zoo try to swim for the first time. In other words, I sucked — but eventually I got it.
Fun fact: Even though Rivera's retired, and even though he's admitted he'd choose Dustin Pedroia over Robinson Cano as a second baseman, the Boston-New York rivalry is still very real to him. The catcher tried to give me some tips — you know, after he completely outed me as a Sox fan. All the while, Rivera shouted things at me like, "Swing like a man!" and "Choke up!" I just didn't want the famous pitcher to feel like he was wasting his time on me. And, luckily, I managed to get several hits in — the first of which I've captured below. The point is it didn't matter how much I read or how often I practiced: There was no way I could have ever prepared for such an event. I was too starstruck. Oh, and I've never played sports in my life, so there's that, too.
Check out the clip below. I don't know — maybe all I was missing was some walkout music.