A Hoss Is A Hoss Of Course Of Course

Updated: September 21, 2013

A Hoss Is A Hoss Of Course Of Course

Bob Harris sat if front of his locker, staring into the contents, but seeing nothing. His mind was intently listening to the sounds of the locker room. A subdued locker room after the 4-2 loss to the Florida Featherheads. The normal chatter, the banter, the fun of the last two months as the San Antonio Calzones de Laredo made their improbable run at the postseason, had all but dissappeared.

Scared. On the verge of choking. They were playing not to lose. Bob knew it. The team knew it. Nobody said so, but at this point it wasn’t a secret.

He knew the situation. And so did the rest of the team. Win tomorrow, the final day of the 2018 PEBA season, and the Calzones were in the playoffs. Lose, and the possibility remained of missing the playoffs completely.

The lanky righthander with the mediocre fastball, the former Rule 5 pick that nobody wanted, stood up and gathered his thoughts. He looked towards the office of Calzones Manager Taizo Sugano. He knew what he had to do.

Harris arrived at the Manager’s office door, and poked his head in side.

“I need a word skip,” Harris said politely.

The manager motioned him in. Harris slowly closed the door behind him. Saigano looked at his workhorse pitcher and their eyes locked as Harris stood in front of his desk.

“Give me the ball skip,” Harris said quietly to his manager.

Sugano motioned his pitcher to sit down, but Harris remained standing. Sugano studied his pitcher for a moment.

“243 innings this season,” Sugano said. “Miller pitch tomorrow. Need you in playoffs.”

Harris stared intently at his manager.

“With all due respect Mr. Sugano,” Harris said sternly, his eyes locked on Sugano’s, “I’m not asking.”

Sugano stood up from behind his desk, his eyes only leaving Harris momentarily to gaze out into the subdued locker room. He turned his eyes back to Harris, and slowly walked around the desk. The two men’s eyes remained locked on one another as Sugano slowly walked past Harris and opened the door.

“Miller!!!” shouted Sugano. John Miller, the Calzones journeyman lefthander, appeared from behind a row of lockers and walked towards the managers door.

“Yes skip?” asked Miller.

“Harris pitch tomorrow. You bullpen.”

Sugano did not even wait to hear a response from the surely disappointed Miller before closing the door and returning to stare intently at Bob Harris. He walked back around behind his desk and sat down, with both men still having their eyes locked upon each other. Sugano sat back down and opened the top drawer of the desk, and pulled out a baseball. He tossed it up to Harris, who caught it without ever taking his eyes off Sugano.

“Go home. Rest. 7 innings tomorrow. No more. No less.”

Harris looked at his manager and nodded his head. “Yes, sir” he said politely. “And thank you.”

“No, thank you” said Sugano.

Harris turned and left the office, and noticed a little up uptick in the mood in the locker room. First basemen Octávio Pexego walked up to him and put his arm around Harris shoulder as Harris walked back to his locker.

“You got one more left in you?” asked Pexego.

Harris smiled at the veteran first basemen.

“You get me a run, and I’ll make it stand up,” Harris replied.

“Deal,” replied Pexego.

Harris grabbed his gym bag from his locker, and began to leave. He sensed a few eyes on him as he reached the door. He turned and looked at the group of players still milling around. Harris turned to face the group as he opened the door.

“Lighten up guys. We’re going to the playoffs,” Harris said to his teammates, then walked out the door and towards the tunnel that led to the players parking lot.

Bob Harris arrived at the ballpark at 10 am on Sunday, Sept 19th, and began his normal 4 hour preparation for that days game. He was greeted in the locker room by backup catcher Jeff Richard, who informed him that he would be catching Harris today. Harris thought little of it, and knowing that regular catcher Dan Glenn had played in 5 straight games, he had believed it was likely that Richard would be behind the plate for the season finale.

The two went over the scouting reports, and talked about how they wanted to attack each batter. After twenty minutes of reviewing the scouting reports, Harris looked at his catcher and gave him a few simple instructions.

“I want an early target,” he said to Richard.

The catcher nodded.

“Keep me on the corners. The fastball is only for show, off the plate. If we need to come inside, it’s with the cutter, but inside off the plate. I want them swinging at the off-speed stuff.”

Richard nodded again.

“I’ll see you in the bullpen at 1:25” he said lastly, before turning to stare into his locker.

He sat there for the next 45 minutes, mentally go over each hitter on the Featherheads roster. The rest of the team began to trickle into the locker room, arriving to prepare for the game. As was the custom, no one spoke to that days starting pitcher.

By 12:30, Harris was ready to take the field and begin his stretching routine. As he walked out of the tunnel, he stopped just out of sight of the field, and gazed out at the stadium where fans were beginning to trickle in. He looked up at the large scoreboard in CF, replaying highlights of last night’s games around PEBA.

Bob Harris always stopped near that top step, and took a moment to remind himself where he was. In the big leagues. In PEBA. That was something the under rated pitcher would never take for granted. He always stopped on that top step, and told himself, this time could be the last. Make it count. And today, more than any other day in his career, he really needed to make it count.

He stepped out into the dugout, and took his customary spot on the bench. He removed his few items from his bag, and situated them on the shelf behind the bench. He checked the laces on his shoes, then glanced up at the lineup card posted on the wall.

Harris got up, carried his glove under his arm, and walked out into the bright warm midday Laredo sun. He was greeted at the 3b foul line by Isabel, who gave him a warm hug, as she did every pitcher on the days they were starting.

Isabel held the hug a little longer than usual, and looked up the Calzones pitcher. She started to speak, but Bob held his finger up to his mouth.

“Shhh,” he said. “I got this.”

Isabel smiled and repeated the gesture, bringing her finger to her mouth. Bob smiled and walked out towards right field to begin stretching.

After stretching, Bob made his way to the bullpen and began gripping the baseball. He worked through all the combination of grips he used, over and over, loosening up his fingers. The stands were filling quickly now, and fans were shouting encouragement to him, but he mostly just nodded to them. Ninety percent of it was in Spanish anyhow, and despite this being the end of his third season in Laredo, he understood hardly a word of it.

Pitching coach Roberto López and catcher Jeff Richard arrived in the bullpen precisely at 1:25, and Bob began his 20 minute throwing routine under López’s watchful eye. Not much was said by any of the three, and at 1:45 they began the walk back to the dugout as pregame ceremonies began. He toweled off in the dugout, and went again through his mental preparations. At 2:03, he stood to get ready to take the field. Octavio Pexego, who was in the lineup as the designated hitter, greeted him at steps to the field and put his arm around him.

“We have a deal,” Pexego said to the pitcher.

“You just hold up your end,” Harris reminded the first basemen.

“I’m only getting you one,” Pexego replied.

“That’s all I need,” smiled Harris.

The Featherhead’s first batter, Javier Cruz, lined a single to center on a 2-2 pitch to give the Featherhead’s a baserunner.

The next batter, Andrew Moten, struck out swinging on a changeup in the dirt on a 3-2 pitch, but the catcher Richard had no chance to throw out Cruz, who was running on the pitch and stole second base. After Robert Robinsongrounded out to short, with Cruz advancing to third, Harris was facing the left handed batting power hitter William Peterson. After a fastball outside for ball one, Harris again went to the fastball on the outside part of the plate, but left it just a bit inside. Peterson drilled the pitch, and the sound off the bat was not good. Harris turned to watch, as the ball sailed high and deep to centerfield. Calzones center fielder Marcos Ramos was at a full gallop towards the deepest part of the park. Harris began backing up to cover home plate, then slowed to a stop and exhaled as the crowd roared. Ramos had reached up and snagged the drive just before reaching the wall in deep right centerfield.

Inning over.

The Calzones would go quietly in the bottom of the first. In the top of the second, Harris issued a 4 pitch walk to Jaime López with 2 outs, but he had made up his mind he was going after Ricardo Macías, the backup catcher, for the final out of the inning.

Pexego was scheduled to lead off the bottom of the second, and he pointed at Harris as he headed towards the on deck circle. “Here comes your run,” Pexego shouted to Harris.

“Put up or shut up big guy,” Harris shouted back in a bit of playful banter.

On a 2-2 pitch from Featherheads starter William Ferguson, Pexego launced a rocket to deep right center. He stood and watched it go, and turned to look at Harris in the dugout as he began to trot around the bases. Harris sat in the dugout laughing and shaking his head as Pexego trotted down the steps.

“There you go Hoss,” Pexego said to the pitcher as he sat down next to the pitcher and gave him a high five. “It’s all on you now.”

“Who you calling Hoss?” Harris asked playfully.

“You wanted to be the big guy. Your the Hoss. Now live up to it,”replied his teammate with a smile.

The Calzones would put another run on the board in the inning with three straight singles, and Harris headed to the mound in the third with a 2-0 lead. Just like in the second inning, Harris would give up a two out walk but left the mound with the lead intact after the top half of the frame.

In the bottom of the third, Calzones LF Dan Perry would connect with a solo HR that would just clear the fence in deep left center, and the Calzones lead was 3-0. Harris had a cushion to work with now.

In the top of the 4th the Featherheads would muster a two out double off Harris, but that was all. He set down the side in order in the 5th, and in the 6th would allow just a two out single to Peterson.

In the top of the7th, Robert Johnson would add a two run HR for the Calzones to stretch the Calzones lead to 5-0. In the midst of the dugout celebration, Harris noticed the manager Sugano motioning to the pitching coach to get guys up in the bullpen. He stared at Sugano, whose eyes met Harris gaze. Harris stood and walked towards his manager.

“I owe you one more skip,” Harris shouted towards his manager.

Sugano looked at his pitcher for a long moment.

“Give me one more, Hoss,” Sugano shouted back, and then he motioned to the pitching coach to hang up the bullpen phone.

In the top of the 7th, Harris would again give up a two out base runner on a walk, but escaped without allowing a run. As Harris came off the mound to end the 7th, the fans in the park could see a reliever warming up in the bullpen. They knew the afternoon, after 112 pitches and 7 innings of shutout baseball, was over for Harris. The fans gave him a standing ovation, and he tipped his cap to the crowd as he made his way into the dugout. He shook hands with his catcher, and slapped high fives around the dugout with all his teammates, who by this time were all calling him “Hoss”.

Harris set his glove on the bench, and turned to walk towards his manager. Their eyes met and locked upon each other as Harris approached. Sugano stuck out his hand in order to shake hands with Harris, but Harris kept coming towards Sugano ignoring the outstretched hand. The lanky pitcher wrapped his arms around the normally stoic Sugano and wrapped him in a big bear hug.

All the stoic Sugano could manage was a sheepish “good job Hoss” as Harris hugged his manager. Harris released his hold on the manager and stepped back.

“Thanks skip,” he said to his somewhat shocked manager. “Best damn day of my life.”

Harris returned to the bench, and sat and watched the final two innings of the game, soaking in as much as he could. He wanted the moment to last forever. The lanky kid with the mediocre fastball, the former Rule 5 pickup that nobody seemed to want, had just pitched the game of his life, and the Calzones were going to the playoffs.