Why Spiegel has a new perspective today on baseball
This past week, I was given an entirely new perspective on a game I've loved since the age of three.
Physically, it was behind a backstop, about eight feet away from the catcher, batter, and umpire at a western suburbs Pony League game. Pops Spiegel, a 79-year-old baseball guru once and always, was in town for a rare visit, standing next to me. And 54 feet beyond home plate was the pitcher's mound, and on that mound stood nephew Jack.
Jack has always loved the game, voraciously gobbling up information, trading trivia, watching everything he can, and playing organized ball at every level possible. His little brother Finn is the same way. Few visits to their home don't include some form of front-yard activity, with tennis balls getting spanked toward houses in the distance.
But somewhere along the way Jack grew up. His body developed, and he took to some excellent training at a sports academy.
He is now a 14-year-old left-handed pitcher with a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a circle change, and a nasty curveball (thrown for the first time this year, with proper mechanics and attention to detail). Other kids may throw harder, but Jack relies on that big arsenal and excellent control.
"I've only walked like 10 guys in my life," he told me.
Good pickoff move too.
So there Pops and I were, watching him pitch. Lefty, hides the ball well with the glove extended above his hand, fluid delivery with the arm popping out a little late from behind his back.
I thought he looked like a leaner version of Sid Fernandez, the great '80s Mets starting pitcher. Pops went with Hal Newhouser, a two-time MVP with the Tigers in the war years of 1944 and '45. Old people are cool.
I've often talked and written about "aesthetically pleasing baseball things." One of them is detailed in the tag below this column. Another is a skillfully turned 6-4-3 double play; like ballet.
A right-handed power hitter destroying a high fastball for a pulled home run is awe-inspiring. Then there's this: Called strike 3 on a nasty curveball for the third out, batter frozen in place as the pitcher walks off the mound to a raucous crowd.
Nephew Jack struck out the side, finishing in just that way. He struck out the side again two innings later; 7 K's in his 9 outs of work. He's been consistently that good this season.
The possibilities started to flood my brain. You can play baseball for a lot of years as a lefty with a two-seamer, circle change, and a good curve.
You could be John Franco or Frank Viola or Johan Santana or any number of random big league middle relievers. My nephew could one day be the guy getting ripped on sports talk radio, the Will Ohman of 2025.
Unless, of course, Ohman is still the Ohman of 2025.
But go smaller, Spiegel, pull it back. Jack could make his high school team. While he achieves a dream, reaping those benefits and lessons, I might end up with a family member to really root for. Having a dog in the baseball fight would allow participation as a fan, maybe as a knowledgeable supporter in his success.
I hadn't really considered that until the aesthetically pleasing moment behind the backstop.
This is not new for many of you, who've had kids, cousins, nephews, or brothers play at a decent level. Well, now count me among your ranks. A baseball talker and writer found a new, more deeply invested, personal vantage point.
Here's to years more of it.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.