Two days earlier, against the Angels, I'd thrown a sinker and felt as if I'd been stabbed in the right shoulder. The pain landed me on the disabled list and now on my manager's couch. My senses are on high alert, noticing everything from the tight weave of the carpet to the reddish, round contour of Buck's face.
After you finish rehabbing your shoulder, what would you think about going back to the minors to become a knuckleball pitcher? Orel asks. We think it's your best chance for success. You have a good knuckleball already. You have the perfect makeup to make it work, because you know how to compete.
I squirm on the sofa. Orel and I have had some general conversations about this but nothing concrete. I've done bullpen sessions for him in which I've thrown nothing but the knuckleball. He's always been positive and supportive. Positive is exactly what I need right now, because I'm full of doubts and short on hope, a 30-year-old journeyman whose career is hanging by a glove string.
O.K., so not many people have confused me with Nolan Ryan. But still, I've always been able to throw 92 or 93 miles per hour. I became an All-American at Tennessee and an Olympian and a first-round draft choice because I had a big league fastball and a big league changeup. Now I am supposed to say goodbye to all that and join the lineage of Hoyt Wilhelm and the Niekro brothers and Charlie Hough?
It is what I have to do, because radar guns don't lie, and this whole spring, my fastball has been topping out at 85 or 86. My arm feels fine and I cut the ball loose, and what? Nothing.
In my heart I know what is going on. I know my arm is spent. I have no backup plan if the Rangers let me go. Worse still, I have lost all belief in my ability. I feel overmatched. I imagine a future making widgets on an assembly line.
So I look at Buck and Orel and Goose, and I tell them:
I'll do it. I'll go to the minors. I'll become a full-time knuckleball pitcher.
I stand up and shake hands with all three of them, a life-changing, seven-minute meeting complete. I feel as if a weight has been lifted, as if they're throwing a lifeline to me. Who cares about throwing 90? I'm tired of being average, or worse. Tired of being lost, hiding on the margins of life and the Rangers' roster. Tired of pretending I am something I am not. I have no idea how this experiment is going to go, but I can't wait to find out.