"I am about
to hurry on to the hotel when this kid points out a soda bottle on top of a
fence post about the same distance home plate is from the pitcher's rubber. He
rears way back, comes around and pops the ball at it. Out there on that fence
post the soda bottle explodes. It disintegrates like a rifle bullet hit it—just
little specks of vaporized glass in a puff. Beyond the post I could see the
ball bouncing across the grass of the park until it stopped about as far away
as I can hit a three-wood on a good day.
"I said, very
calm, 'Son, would you mind showing me that again?'
"And he did.
He disappeared across the park to find the ball—it had gone so far, he was
after it for what seemed 15 minutes. In the meantime I found a tin can from a
trash container and set it up for him. He did it again—just kicked that can off
the fence like it was hit with a baseball bat. It wasn't the accuracy of the
pitch so much that got to me but the speed. It was like the tin can got belted
as soon as the ball left the guy's fingertips. Instantaneous. I thought to
myself, 'My god, that kid's thrown the ball about 150 mph. Nolan Ryan's
fastball is a change-up compared to what this kid just threw.'
happens next is that we sit and talk, this kid and I, out there on the grass of
the park. He sits with the big boots tucked under his legs, like one of those
yoga guys, and he tells me he's not sure he wants to play big league baseball,
but he'd like to give it a try. He's never played before, but he knows the
rules, even the infield-fly rule, he tells me with a smile, and he knows he can
throw a ball with complete accuracy and enormous velocity. He won't tell me how
he's done this except that he 'learned it in the mountains, in a place called
Po, in Tibet.' That is where he said he had learned to pitch...up in the
mountains, flinging rocks and meditating. He told me his name was Hayden Finch,
but he wanted to be called Sidd Finch. I said that most of the Sids we had in
baseball came from Brooklyn. Or the Bronx. He said his Sidd came from
'Siddhartha,' which means 'Aim Attained' or 'The Perfect Pitch.' That's what he
had learned, how to throw the perfect pitch. O.K. by me, I told him, and that's
what I put on the scouting report, 'Sidd Finch.' And I mailed it in to the
The reaction in
New York once the report arrived was one of complete disbelief. The assumption
was that Schaefer was either playing a joke on his superiors or was sending in
the figment of a very powerful wish-fulfillment dream. But Schaefer is one of
the most respected men in the Met organization. Over the past seven years, the
clubs he has managed have won six championships. Dave Johnson, the Met manager,
phoned him. Schaefer verified what he had seen in Old Orchard Beach. He told
Johnson that sometimes he, too, thought he'd had a dream, but he hoped the Mets
would send Finch an invitation so that, at the very least, his own mind would
be put at rest.
When a rookie is
invited to training camp, he gets a packet of instructions in late January. The
Mets sent off the usual literature to Finch at the address Schaefer had
supplied them. To their surprise, Finch wrote back with a number of
stipulations. He insisted he would report to the Mets camp in St. Petersburg
only with the understanding that: 1) there were no contractual commitments; 2)
during off-hours he be allowed to keep completely to himself; 3) he did not
wish to be involved in any of the team drills or activities; 4) he would show
the Mets his pitching prowess in privacy; 5) the whole operation in St.
Petersburg was to be kept as secret as possible, with no press or
The reason for
these requirements—he stated in a letter written (according to a source in the
Met front office) in slightly stilted, formal and very polite terminology—was
that he had not decided whether he actually wanted to play baseball. He wrote
apologetically that there were mental adjustments to be made. He did not want
to raise the Mets' expectations, much less those of the fans, and then dash
them. Therefore it was best if everything were carried on in secret or, as he
put it in his letter, "in camera."
At first, the
inclination of the Met front office was to disregard this nonsense out of hand
and tell Finch either to apply, himself, through normal procedures or forget
it. But the extraordinary statistics in the scouting report and Schaefer's
verification of them were too intriguing to ignore. On Feb. 2, Finch's terms
were agreed to by letter. Mick McFadyen, the Mets' groundskeeper in St.
Petersburg, was ordered to build the canvas enclosure in a far corner of the
Payson complex, complete with a pitcher's mound and plate. Reynolds's ordeal
was about to start.
Reynolds is a
sturdy, hardworking catcher (he has been described as looking like a high
school football tackle). He has tried to be close-lipped about Finch, but his
experiences inside the canvas enclosure have made it difficult for him to
resist answering a few questions. He first heard about Finch from the Mets'
general manager. "Mr. Cashen called me into his office one day in early
March," Reynolds disclosed. "I was nervous because I thought I'd been
traded. He was wearing a blue bow tie. He leaned across the desk and whispered
to me that it was very likely I was going to be a part of baseball history. Big
doings! The Mets had this rookie coming to camp and I was going to be his
special catcher. All very hush-hush.
"Well, I hope
nothing like that guy ever comes down the pike again. The first time I see him
is inside the canvas coop, out there on the pitcher's mound, a thin kid getting
ready to throw, and I'm thinking he'll want to toss a couple of warmup pitches.
So I'm standing behind the plate without a mask, chest protector, pads or
anything, holding my glove up, sort of half-assed, to give him a target to
throw at...and suddenly I see this windup like a pretzel gone loony, and the
next thing, I've been blown two or three feet back, and I'm sitting on the
ground with the ball in my glove. My catching hand feels like it's been hit
with a sledgehammer."