Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Evening With Pops Derwood

Pops Derwood is practically a celebrity in his living room, so we've asked him to bring that fame and a .205 career batting average to Offbase and share a story or two about his illustrious career in the Chicago Cubs organization. His book, I Didn't See That Fast Ball, But I Heard It, is not scheduled for release until January, 2012, but here is an excerpt.

It’s not like I was signed for my hitting. In fact, the year I was signed out of college, 1970, I hit .200 at Springfield College (it might actually have been lower, but in those days, thank god, they didn’t keep good stats). No, I was signed as a catcher-a damn good catcher with a cannon for an arm (nobody stole a base on me). I could catch anybody, called a good game and nothing got by me.

But Spring Training in 1971 showed me a whole different world. There, still on the Rookie-A ball roster (after playing on that team the year before), I was catching a Class-AA game because they needed a catcher (this was common in Spring Training. I also caught Fergie Jenkins in the bullpen one day).

We were playing the A’s and low and behold the pitcher that day was Vida Blue. THE Vida Blue who was obviously down there getting some work in.

I batted eighth of course (no DH in those days) and didn’t expect to actually face him because I figured he would throw a couple of innings, strike out the side in both and move on. But we got a couple of guys on base and I did end up facing him with two outs in the third inning.

I actually wasn’t nervous. In fact, you're a lot safer with a Major League pitcher throwing because most of the time they can put it where they want it and had no interest in knocking down a .175 hitter from A ball. So no, I wasn’t nervous. But I was anxious. After all, I had faced Pete Broberg in college who threw in the high 90’s, and I caught Tommy Badcock in college and the pros who had a 90 mile an hour slider. I had seen speed.

And, I had never touched it…

First pitch from Blue was a fast ball right down the pipe. I took it.

Second pitch was on the outside corner and called a strike. I never even saw the damn thing. I mean, I didn’t SEE it as it went by me and landed in the catcher’s glove.

Third pitch, same thing-100 million miles an hour and I never even saw the thing.

Three pitches and I only saw one of them.

“So THAT’S the difference between the minors and the majors,” I thought.

Then I realized he could have killed me. If he had thrown at my coconut I never would have seen it! It would have beaned me before I knew I was being beaned.

Slowly (but not too slowly) I walked back to the dugout. I began to calculate how many credits I needed to graduate from college because I was pretty sure this was going to be it for me.

Next day, coach airfare home to Ossining, New York. My career was over and judging by my reaction to the Vida Blue fastball? None too soon…

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