Monday, August 29, 2011
McHugh: Fenway Park
By Adam Rubin
Double-A Binghamton pitcher Collin McHugh, an 18th-round pick in 2008 who hails from Atlanta, chronicles his life as a Mets minor leaguer on his personal blog, "A Day Older, A Day Wiser." He will periodically have those entries carried on ESPNNewYork.com as well.
Courtesy of Binghamton Mets
It's not every day you get to pitch a game at historic Fenway Park. Actually, it's never for most people. Until the other day, I was "most people." I had never pitched in front of more than 9,000 people (Brooklyn opening day, 2009) in my life. And I assumed pitching in a big-league park was reserved for ... well, big leaguers. Yet somehow, in the craziness of this season, I was given the opportunity to pitch the Futures at Fenway game.
Every year, two of the Boston Red Sox affiliates (usually Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket) play a game at Fenway Park as a treat for Red Sox nation to see its future Sox and for the players to get a taste of the bigs. This year, the B-Mets drew the game against Portland. Exciting! I realized this game would be a good opportunity for (wife) Ashley to visit friends in Boston and to catch a game at Fenway, even if I wasn't going to be pitching. You see, I made the assumption that in a starting rotation stacked with two former big league pitchers and three other top prospects, I would be at the end of the queue for this rare opportunity. Plans were set in place anyway. Ashley would be in Boston for that weekend, and I would be at Fenway. Again, exciting!
I tend to make declarations midseason. Each year for the last three seasons I have looked myself in the eye and said “nobody will pitch better than you the second half of this season.” It worked the first couple times I did it, so I figured, ‘Why not do it again this year?’ Post all-star break this year I had actually thrown really well. Well enough to merit a start in Fenway? I assumed not.
Two weeks away from the big game, all the starters began to do the math in their heads. "If we are on a five-man rotation then that would mean _____ would start. If we decide to stick with a six-man, then that would mean ... McHugh?" Sure enough, the calendar was working in my favor. A week away, I waited for the coach to let me know I was in luck. The day grew closer and there still was no word from the coaching staff. So, casually, I walked into the coaches' office and said (in my best nonchalant voice), "So what does the rotation look like this week?" The pitching coach turned around in his chair and with a smirk on his face said that I had Saturday ... I had Fenway.
We could talk about all the buildup to the game. The eight-hour bus ride from Bingo to Portland. The two-hour bus ride from Portland to Boston, wherein our bus broke down a mile and a half from the park. The makeshift locker room that we shared with the opposing team. Walking around the park for a couple of hours. But all of that pales in comparison to actually toeing the rubber at Historic Fenway Park. I don't consider myself a baseball historian by any means, but a student of the game? Absolutely. I know about Fenway. The oldest major league stadium in the country. Pesky's pole. The Lone Red Seat. The Green Monster. I know about Fisk's homerun that he waved fair in the ’75 series. Ted Williams going 6-for-8 on the last day of the season to ensure his .400 batting average. And, last but not least, “The Babe” pitching and hitting in his (pre-Yankees) uniform.
Roughly 25,000 strong, the stadium was filling quickly. As I began warming up on the same plot of ground as so many that had gone before me, I felt confident. “If they could succeed here, why not me?” It was, in fact, just like any other start this season. It was the third time I had faced the Sea Dogs, each time pitching better than before. I was coming off one of my best starts of the year, and it was my turn. Taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulders, I threw my first warm-up pitch. Right down the middle. I was really there. I was really pitching at Fenway Park. The noise was no longer a factor. The mystique of past heroes died away. It was me and the catcher. Time to go to work.
Six innings later, with a two-run lead, I exited the game. It wasn't a sense of relief, nor accomplishment, that I felt. For the first time in my baseball career, I felt like I belonged. I had thrown in a big league stadium, in front of a big league crowd and performed well. The ghosts of Fenway past seemed more like comrades. I felt closer to the Bigs than ever. It was short-lived.
After chatting with my wife, dad and a few friends, it was time to get on the bus ... again. Two more hours, another bus malfunction and we were back in Portland, Maine. Afternoon game the next day, then another eight hours on the bus back to good ole' Bingo. Life was the same on the outside. Yet, nothing could take away the confidence and assuredness that I got from toeing it up next to The Babe and succeeding.
I don't pretend to know what the future holds for me and my baseball career. I don't know if I will ever have the chance to pitch at Fenway again. But, for a brief moment, my wife, my father and I got a glimpse of where I could go. What I could do. We came face to face with the reality of why we put in all the work. It felt good, natural even. At the very least, it was a story I shared with those closest to me, and one that I will continue to share with my kids and grandkids. I think we forget, in the day-to-day grind, that we are building a life's worth of memories here. This was one that I will never forget.