The Perfect Game
(From my friend at work, Rett. Thanks Rett!!)
I love stories like this! It reminds me that no matter who we are, or what talents we possess, each of us has the potential to do something extraordinary at that special moment reserved just for us. All we need to do is be ready for that moment, believe we can do it, and then ….Do it!
Excerpts from Joe Posnanski’s Article on SI.com (May 10,2010)
He was the 1,383rd player taken in the 2004 draft after he graduated from Alonzo Stagg High in Stockton, Calif. He just showed up at American River College in Sacramento -- and he played well enough there to get a chance to play for Texas Tech. He pitched well enough at Texas Tech – and was drafted in the 24th round by Oakland. Teams tend not to think all that much about guys taken in the 24th round; it's a good bet that Dallas Braden was drafted because he threw a screwball. Nobody throws a screwball anymore. Braden was never a prospect in the minor leagues either. The scouting report was built around the idea that he did not have a good-enough fastball or slider. The next year, he was not even ranked among the Oakland A's 30 best prospects. In 2007, when he was called up to pitch, he was certain it was a prank. He was never highly regarded. Actually, he was not regarded at all. He was a left-handed pitcher with a so-so fastball -- mid-80s -- a bland slider and this one sleight-of-hand pitch that would disappear into hitters' blind spots. Or anyway, it disappeared into minor league hitters' blind spots ... that first year in the big leagues, the league hit .303 against him, and after he won his first big league decision, he lost his next eight. Braden did have something else, though. He had this bold certainty that he belonged. Who knows where that sort of confidence comes from? Braden's childhood has been written about before -- it wasn't easy. He lost his mother when he was a senior in high school. For a while, he lived in the hotel that his grandmother managed. His college coach said that he would sometimes find Braden in the parking lot, sleeping in his truck. Braden himself has said that without his grandmother's influence, he undoubtedly would have ended up in jail.
The thing is ... if you had to bet on someone throwing a perfect game in today's era, you might think to bet on somebody with a 98-mph fastball and a mean streak to go with it. But you would probably bet wrong. Since 1994 -- going into Sunday -- there had been five perfect games. And four of them were thrown by what you might call, crafty left-handers. A screwball is a pitch that breaks the opposite way of a curveball. So, when a lefty throws it, it breaks AWAY from a right-handed hitter. That pitch Braden throws that breaks away from righties is now widely viewed by pitching experts as a change-up and not a screwball -- not that it really matters what it's called. There was no reason to expect much excitement yesterday-Mother's Day. The A's were playing the Rays, the second-highest scoring offense in the league. Braden had been OK all year, but nothing more; less than two weeks earlier the Rays had knocked him out of the game with nobody out in the fifth inning. There was no promotion going yesterday. It wasn't even a free parking day in Oakland. Only 12,228 showed up -- a bunch of them sitting in section 209 in honor of Stockton.
Braden breezed through the Rays in the first inning on nine pitches. The fastest pitch was 88 mph -- and it was a ball. Braden had a slightly tougher time in the second -- he stuck mostly with hard stuff, or the hardest stuff he could manage. Jamie Moyer, the master of the change-up -- once said something like this: The key to throwing a great change-up is conviction. He meant that you have to throw your change-up with 100 percent belief that it will get the hitter out. That's not the easiest thing to do. Hitters have done terrible things to misguided change-ups. By the fifth inning, people began to realize that something was happening. 15 outs in a row. He battled through the sixth inning and kept the perfect game alive. He made it through the seventh inning with seven pitches. The eighth was his obvious challenge -- he had to face the middle of the lineup again. He got the first batter to fly out on the fadeaway. The next up hit a foul pop-up on a high slider and Braden’s teammate made a dazzling catch as he ran into the third base dugout. The next batter struck out on an inside fastball, 90 mph, the fastest pitch Braden would throw all night. He was pumped. The ninth went smoothly, too. There really was no drama in this thing, no dazzling plays, no near-hits. The final batter did smack a line drive to left, but the ball hung up and was a pretty easy play for the left fielder. The final at-bat worked for a 3-1 count and then grounded to short to end the perfect game.
Dallas Braden pointed to the sky, to his mother. He was mobbed by his teammates. He then went into foul ground and hugged his grandmother for a long time. The same grandmother who had kept him out of jail. Athletes say all the time, "Nobody believed in me." Usually they are just talking -- usually there were plenty of people who believed. But, in this case, it's true. Few did believe in him. He somehow kept believing in himself. Braden pitched the 19th perfect game in history on Sunday. "There's nothing you can say," He said in his television interview immediately after he became famous forever. "It's perfect."
Here’s to that “perfect” moment…