What did a kid do when there was nothing to do on a summer day in Fulda, Minn. in the mid-1950s?
There were two main options: You would throw a baseball against the steps in the front of the house, or you would toss a baseball in the air, get two hands on a bat and attempt to give it a whack.
These options were not always available, since we resided in the upstairs of the large house, and the downstairs was my father’s funeral home.
If a family in the area had suffered a loss, you had to check the schedule to make sure you wouldn’t be throwing a baseball against the steps when those folks arrived to pick out a casket for a loved one.
And if there was a wake taking place, you were encouraged to be quiet if anywhere in the vicinity of the house.
I was probably 9 or 10 one afternoon when I tossed up the baseball, took the whack, lost my grip on the bat and it went flying through a window. The wake would be starting in a couple hours, and even with my father’s love for baseball, a bat through a window of a sitting room in the funeral home was an inexcusable blunder.
Somehow, I started thinking about this on Wednesday night, while watching Bartolo Colon work innings 4 through 7 in a 4-0 victory over the Brewers in Milwaukee.
Colon went seven scoreless innings for the Twins, and he put those on top of a complete game in his last outing for the Twins.
The casualness and pace with which he did this reminded me of a kid throwing a baseball at the steps. I was the kid because it’s the only experience I have with that picture.
That’s what you did: You took a glance, zeroed in on a specific spot, and tried to hit it so that the baseball would return as planned. Once the ball was back in the glove, you would look around for a moment, maybe flip the ball in the air, and then get ready to make another throw as close to your spot as possible.
I think this vision came to me as the Twins were batting in the top of the sixth. The TV camera went to the dugout as Dick Bremer and the excellent analyst, Roy Smalley, were mentioning Colon.
And there was Bartolo, looking straight ahead, not much to do, but he had a ball in his possession, so he tossed it a couple of feet above his head and caught it.
Young Bartolo had to be a fabulous time killer on a languid day in Altamira, Dominican Republic. I’m guessing all he would have needed to occupy himself was a baseball.
I don’t care if he’s 44 and was making his 528th start (including playoffs) in the major leagues. Nobody can be the cool hand that was Colon on Wednesday, not even Paul Newman as Luke Jackson.
Colon’s strikeout fastball is long gone, so he basically has to keep pumping strikes until a hitter puts a ball in play. Every pitch needs a thought, and he gets the ball back from the catcher, stares at nothing for a couple of seconds as he contemplates, and then he’s ready to go.
As Smalley pointed out, Colon gets hitters so conscious of the fastball that’s down with a little run at 86/87 miles per hour, that when he goes with the fastball at 92 – high and straight – it can get on the top of the hitters before they adjust.
The thing about Colon’s high fastball is that it’s not so high that it’s easy to lay off. It’s more like an inch and fraction above a perfect hitting location … irresistable, but not the cookie it looked like approaching the plate.
The most amazing pitch of Colon’s night came when he jammed Orlando Arcia with a fastball at 84. This is Ozzie’s kid brother and a future All-Star as a shortstop. And Arcia actually wound up with a hit in this at-bat, but strike two had to hit the knuckle of Arcia’s right index finger as he swung.
It was a hysterical hack. The whole Colon approach – looking around, picking out a spot, doing so as casually if he was throwing at the front steps; flipping a baseball because there’s nothing else to do at that moment – was hysterical.
It was the most fun I’ve had watching a Twins game since back in 2010, when Twins games were fun.