Friday 18 May 2012

First pitch of the 8th

On April 18th, 2012, Yan Gomes made his major league debut for the Toronto Blue Jays, of the American league. He played third base, and recorded two hits. As Darren Oliver entered the game to start the top of the 8th, he threw his first pitch of the game. Courtesy of The Blue Jay Hunter, you can see what happened below.

Nice play. Great reaction time! I've led you a little astray, though, because that's not Yan Gomes, 24 year old rookie. That's the very adept glove handling skill of Omar Vizquel.

Vizquel, for the uninitiated, is a very, very, veteran defensive replacement. He is 45 years old.

That's the magic of baseball for you. In a game with no clock, every so often, a player comes along and holds off father time in surprising ways. Vizquel came into the game to replace a 24 year old rookie, because he's believed to be the better glove man. And he showed it on the very first pitch thrown while he was in the game.This season Vizquel is not the only man testing his ability to turn back the clock.

Our even more unlikely candidate is below.

The hit pictured above is from Jamie Moyer. Moyer is just returning from a year off to have Tommy John surgery. Which means he is a pitcher. A pitcher who recently celebrated his 49th birthday. He is now the oldest player in MLB history to get a hit, and also the oldest to drive in a run. Moyer is the oldest player in MLB history to do anything that he does. He is the punchline to every 'this guy is older than something really old' joke made in the last 6 months.

Every day, though, Jamie Moyer is the one laughing. He gets up in the morning and can put on the uniform of a real big league team. He makes a real contribution to the Colorado Rockies. He's almost 50 years old, and he's still living the life of a baseball player, a life many former players who washed out in their 30s would still trade him for. Jamie Moyer is some kind of wizard.

If there is one player who best captured the impossible spirit of playing beyond any expectation, though, it is not Jamie Moyer, or Omar Vizquel, or Jesse Orosco, or Julio Franco. It is a man most associated with one number and one letter. The number is 5714. The letter, is K.

Nolan Ryan.

Nolan Ryan was a Time Lord. He debut in 1966. He led the league in strikeouts from 1987 to 1990. Those were his age 40 through 44 seasons. He continued to throw in the mid 90s, and even no-hit my beloved Toronto Blue Jays in 1991. Again, when he was 45. He struck out 5714 batters in his career. Is that good? Well, here's the all time list.

As a comparision, Moyer hasn't got a pitch that he can throw 80mph. Omar Vizquel had to come to camp and compete for a job this year. Ryan was heaving it up there like a champion, until his elbow ligament popped in his last start. Like at the end of every series of Doctor Who, when they finally change actors, time had defeated Nolan Ryan, but he had held it back in an unbelievable way.

Baseball is played on a field that is, in theory, infinite in dimensions. Take the fences away, and the outfield rolls on forever. The game has no limits, tie games are played on and on, without concern for the clock. Sometimes that timeless magic gets into a player's blood, and he looks like he could go on forever.

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