Scenes From The Ball Park – The Return of the Bad Apple, continued
Bottom of the 1st Inning…
After a few warm-up throws, my son crouched down in a catcher’s stance. I watched as Tiziano pumped in fastball after fastball in sniper like precision to my son’s glove. It was like watching a finely tuned pitching machine. “Whomp” went the glove time after time. The hiss of the baseball spinning and rocketed towards my son’s glove, especially in the open air field at Heinz, was incredible. Tiziano had thrown about 10 fastballs and then began to mix in his other pitches. He flipped his glove over in a circular motion, indicating some type of curveball or off speed pitch, to my son. Then, he unleashed a breaking ball with a slerve motion that curved from his left hand, high in the air, only to drop into my son’s glove about 1 inch from the ground. He threw another one and another. His accuracy for his fastball and this slerve type pitch were incredible. After 5 or 6 slerve pitches, Tiziano put his glove out, pointed it to my son, then drew his glove to the left across his body. Sort of like making an upside down L in the air. Then, he threw what appeared to me to be a screwball or circle changeup pitch. The baseball’s trajectory started travelling towards the middle of the plate, the swerved off to the left almost into the left handed batter’s box. Like the fastball and slerve pitchers, this screwball type pitch was thrown time and time again in the same spot.
I looked over at the field, where the other older kids were taking infield and outfield practice, and one of the camp’s coaches yelled to my son and Tiziano. “All set gentlemen?” he yelled. Tiziano took off his hat and raised it in the air, just like they do in the Major Leagues. When a pitching coach is in the bullpen at a professional baseball game, and is monitoring a relief pitcher to come into a ball game, the sign for readiness is a removal of the cap. Tiziano was becoming a fascinating story indeed – highly skilled baseball player with a keen eye for the nuances of the game of baseball. “Nice bullpen work, kid.” I said to Tiziano as he was getting ready to depart the bullpen area. He looked at me and then my son and said to my son “your dad?” My son nodded and then turned to me. “Thanks, I try.” Smart, humble, talented – this is going to be a fantastic story, I thought in my head as I walked back towards the bleachers. And with that, Tiziano and my son hustled out to the field to begin the scrimmage game with the other older boys.
I sat in the bleachers anxiously anticipating the first pitch in the scrimmage game. I had started to write some notes and even drew some cartoon images of the pitches Tiziano threw in his warm-up session. The fastball that was crisp and on a line, with a slight illusion of a rise to it. The slerve or curve pitch that broke from 10 o’clock to about 5 o’clock with a tight spin and lots of downward movement. The screwball or circle change pitch that was just baffling with movement, starting dead center and finishing in the left handed batter’s box. My son was excellent catcher who knew how to call a really good game behind the plate. I was excited to see the two work together and deal with players that were seasoned high school and AAU circuit players. After a few warm-up tossed on the mound, I got my wish.
The first batter to face Tiziano was Alex Meadows, a right handed batter and junior at Greenpoint High School, who had played varsity baseball all three seasons to date. Meadows was greeted rudely by the screwball pitch, which he watched helplessly fall into the strike zone. Then, he swung and missed at a rising fastball up around his chest area. Then, watched a curveball drop just under his hands for a called third strike. Meadows glanced out at Tiziano and walked humbly back to the bench. I got out of my seat and headed behind the backstop to take some photos. The next batter was Evan Wright, a top level left handed batter who was a sophomore at Trinity Prep, and a pre-season all conference selection. Tiziano started the left hander off with a devastating curveball that Wright swang through. Next, a fastball poured in right underneath his hands for a called strike two. Finally, Wright swung through the screwball which almost hit him in the back leg. 6 pitches, 2 outs. The final batter of the first inning was Josh Jones, a two sport athlete (baseball and football) who was a junior at Academy Heights. Jones was a switch hitter and elected to bat right handed against the left handed Tiziano. Jones had made the determination that he was going to swing at the first pitch as hard as he could, no matter what the pitch was. And so he did. Tiziano took a little pace off his screwball pitch and Jones swung so hard he fell down on the ground. Sensing his opponent, Jones, was all geared up for a faster pitch, Tiziano then dropped a soft curveball over the heart of the plate for strike 2. Jones back out of the batter’s box, clearly confused, then dug back in. Tiziano then unleashed a wicked fastball to which Jones swung and connected, hitting it straight up into the air behind home plate. My son ripped off his mask, flung it over to the third base line to get it out of his way, found the baseball in the air, camped underneath it, and caught it. He then pointed the ball to me and mouthed “see, I told you he was something.” I winked and proceeded to head back to my spot on the bleachers.
Tiziano would only pitch the one inning and I’m sure that was a relief for the other camp goers. After the camp ended, I approached my son and asked him to introduce him to Tiziano. We looked around the field and he was gone. “I think he rides his bike to camp, maybe we can catch him on the road back to town,” my son said. And with that, we called a taxi to pick us up at Heinz Field. The taxi picked us up around 15 minutes later. My son and I drove towards town but did not see Tiziano anywhere. As we passed by the 205th Restaurant on the fringe of town, my son spotted Tiziano’s backpack draped over a kid’s bike. “I think that’s his bag,” my son pointed to the bag and the bike from the backseat of the taxi van. “Stop here, please.” I instructed the driver and we exited the cab at the 205th Restaurant parking lot.
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