This week, OnMilwaukee sent Jimmy Carlton and Carolynn Buser to Arizona (with The Big 920 WOKY) to cover a different side of Brewers Spring Training, to find the fun, unique angles – on and off the field – that make the bucket-list trip such a memorable experience for Wisconsin fans. Jimmy and Carolynn were on strict orders to report about new and distinctive things – you’ll find no live-tweeting of balls and strikes here – and not to shy away from contact. The following dispatch from the desert underscores their commitment to that last point.
The at-bat started like so many had before it. Seemed ordinary, really. Settled in and staring down from the mound, the pitcher wound up and hurled the ball toward the plate. Standing on the right side of the box and awaiting delivery, the hitter cocked back the bat and took a mighty swing. What happened next, though, was almost unbelievable; you have to see it (yes, fine, scroll down now if you want) to believe it.
To truly understand such a life-changing moment, we must first go back and address the questions that brought us there, that compelled the specific chain of incredible events. What were we doing on that wiffle ball field? Why was I positioned in that exact spot? How did Carolynn make such great contact and how long has she wanted to hurt me?
During Milwaukee’s spring training game Thursday against San Diego at the Padres’ Peoria Sports Complex, Carolynn and I were sauntering around the ballpark, exploring it from a visitor’s perspective and talking to fans. We marveled at how major-league the bigger, newer stadium felt compared to Maryvale Baseball Park – though the Brewers’ digs definitely don’t deserve their dumpy, outdated reputation, and many people prefer the authentic, tailgate-friendly venue – while we shook our heads at the Padres' derisory attempt at a mascot race. We appreciated how noticeably more kid-oriented it was, with a huge pirate-ship playground, throwing and hitting games and at least two adorably tyke-sized mini-fields that were open to the public for free.
One of those, we found, was for wiffle ball, and passing by and seeing it empty – with the ballpark attendant standing at the fence looking bored – I walked up and asked the woman if we could get in and take a few swings. Jill remarked, fairly enough, that it was usually just for children, but after I said we were hoping to record a lighthearted video for our website about a family-friendly spring training visit, she smilingly approved and we entered the field. Like Hunter S. Thompson or George Plimpton, I recognized the opportunity for vital, perhaps groundbreaking participatory journalism. It would be a mistake – almost my last.
I went to bat first, with Carolynn standing a little bit behind Jill, our fearless pitcher who chuckled away my recommendation that she get a protective screen – to shield herself from the furious line drives I was certain to let loose. After a couple foul tips on my first two cuts – Jill was dealing me junk, I figured, no doubt aware from scouting reports that I’m overaggressive and will chase everything, in or out of the zone – I soon worked into a groove.
Pitch after pitch, I laced liners into left-center, sticking to my lifelong mantra of spraying base hits rather than swinging for the fences. It was reminiscent of my decorated high school playing career, except that these were wiffle-ball singles and doubles, and in high school I pretty much just grounded out to second or walked.
After I finished my prodigiously Ichiro-like display of slap hitting, Carolynn took the long, yellow bat for a turn at the plate. Spotting up at third base, I videotaped, recording initially a string of swinging misses and some dribblers to short. But Carolynn, who hadn’t swung a bat in a decade but is a talented golfer, quickly started to heat up. She knocked a few frozen ropes around the diamond, clearly seeing the ball better and gaining confidence.
And then, on her penultimate pitch, an underhanded hummer from Jill, Carolynn unleashed a screamer right at me. Still holding the camera with the wiffle ball whistling toward me, I had no time to react. The scorching shot struck me in the groin, sending the searing pain agonizingly familiar to every man through my body. Well, not really, because it was a perforated, light-weight plastic ball hit by Carolynn from 20 feet away, but still! I saw my life flash before my eyes. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing.
Through a miraculous combination of pain tolerance, coordination, commitment and, again, because it was a wiffle ball that lightly contacted my body, I managed to not lose control of the camera, documenting the two women – utterly unconcerned with my physical wellbeing – doubled over in riotous laughter. I couldn’t blame them; as Homer Simpson knows, there are few things funnier than a man getting a ball in the groin.
Incidentally, that wasn’t the only – or even close to the worst – time I’ve been hit by a ball that wasn't in an actual game. Several years ago, while playing catch with a couple friends, one of them, we'll call him Joe because that's his name, failed to notice the fact that I wasn’t looking when he threw. In what was – unfortunately for me – the most accurate throw of his life, Joe’s ball struck me right in the face, just below my left eye, which made for a badass scar but, still, was not super fun. Largely because of that destructively precise toss, I believe, Joe insists he has a "live arm" and still gives himself a 55 grade on the 20-80 baseball scouting scale.
But anyway, if the wiffle-to-the-balls incident teaches us anything, it’s the importance of paying attention at baseball games. Whether at your kids’ Little League practice or a Brewers game at Miller Park or merely while having a catch in the park, put your phones down and genuinely enjoy the experience. It’s a scary, unsafe world, people; cover your junk and be careful out there.
But, really, this doesn’t teach us anything. It just reinforces the fact that guys getting hit in the groin by stuff is hilarious. For others. Sometimes.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.