Andrew Cotto, in a post on Deadspin’s “Glory Days.”
Our friends at Deadspin run a series called “Glory Days”, that features readers’ tales of momentary sports glory. This one comes to us from author Andrew Cotto, who is also frequent contributor to The Good Men Project. Originally published here, and reprinted with permission.
In 1987, I found myself an unlikely boarding school student and athlete. I’d been an accomplished high school baseball player up to that point, though bad grades and undistinguished behavior disqualified me from any serious college programs. Junior college was in my future until my father intervened and sent me to Blair Academy in western New Jersey for a post-graduate year. In June of that year, I took to the mound for a state semi-final showdown against one of our rivals from central Jersey. It was a warm day, the blue sky full of cumulus clouds. My right arm felt loose; my focus, intense. I’d always thrown hard, but never with the pop of the pitches launched that day. Beyond the velocity was a great control; it was as if I could will the ball where I wanted it to go. Inside, outside, low and away, high and tight, straight down the middle. The strikeouts started immediately. Fastballs too fast to put a bat on; curves that left them looking with the bat still on their shoulder. Somewhere along the way, in the fourth or fifth inning, someone blooped one safely over our second baseman’s head into the soft grass of shallow right field. I didn’t care at the time. I was in the zone and on our way to the state championship game (which we would win). When that warm afternoon of the semifinal game was over, I’d struck out 11 and walked no one. The only blemish on the scorecard was that one lousy hit. Still, I enjoyed some glory. An announcement at dinner. Some high-fives in the hallway. Someone told me there was an article in a local paper in central Jersey, though I never saw it. I felt special for the last few weeks of school.
This month is the 25th reunion of my graduating class from Blair Academy. It also marks the anniversary of my last days of glory. I went on to play baseball at Lynchburg College in Virginia. They had a solid team, which I made during the fall tryout season. I had a real shot at being in the starting rotation that spring. But that season never happened for me. When spring arrived, I had no desire to play baseball for Lynchburg College. I imagined sweaty bus rides around the Old Dominion League, tobacco spit on the floor, Dixie in the air. That’s not how I wanted to spend my time as a college student, so I quit the team and never played baseball again.
I often wondered what would have happened to me and my baseball fortunes had that bloop single back at Blair Academy been turned into an out. Maybe if our second baseman or right fielder had made the heroic play often required to preserve a perfect game. Maybe if I’d nudged that particular pitch a hair more inside or freighted it with a drop more juice. One-hitters gets announcements at dinner; perfect games, on any level, are forever. Maybe a different college program would have come calling. Maybe I would’ve found a better fit. Maybe, as a perfect-game pitcher, I’d have been less inclined to quit when my interest waned. Maybe there would have been more baseball glory coming my way. I don’t know.
I do know that abandoning my passion for baseball led me to other interests, most notably a love of literature discovered in the college classroom. And that love led me, eventually, to a passion for storytelling. I’ve published my second book, Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery. Writing is my field now—the one where I belong.
In my first novel, a coming-of-age story called The Domino Effect, the protagonist, Danny “Domino” Rorro, takes his love of baseball with him from his neighborhood in Queens to the New Jersey boarding school where he attempts to escape his past. Baseball functions throughout the novel on the level of metaphor. Danny doesn’t completely come of age until a game in the spring of his tumultuous adolescence. This time, the kid is perfect—seven innings of no-walk, no-hit, no-bloop-single-into-right pitching. If you can’t get it right in real life, you might as well get it right in your art.
Read more of “Glory Days” on Deadspin.