Ricky Jenson took a deep breath as he stepped back onto the mound and peered in towards home plate. One more strike, and Carey Lakes High School would have the first ever state championship in the schools history. There was not a need to get a signal from the catcher; Ricky knew what the next pitch would be, the same pitch that had allowed him to set a state record for strikeouts, a nasty curve ball that seemed to drop ten to twelve inches as it crossed home plate. As Ricky released the ball, it seemed like slow motion had taken over the entire field. What seem like minutes finally passes as the batter swung at a ball that was now dropping down and away, making him the eighteenth strikeout victim of the game.
Ricky held both arms high in the air in triumph as his teammates rushed towards the mound in celebration. Though only a junior, Ricky had many people tell him that he should have no problem getting into any college his wished, and maybe the pro scouts may be knocking down his door. After all, breaking the state strike out record of one hundred and ninety six strikeouts, then setting a new record of two hundred and twelve should produce a lot of interest by the colleges and the pros.
Over the winter, Ricky worked day in and day out on his game trying to increase his velocity, but for some reason could only top out at eighty-three mph. He was a bit disappointed in that, but was assured that would not stop him from expanding his career past high school, his life long dream.
When spring arrived, Ricky had a sense of determination that oozed from him. Not only was his goal to repeat as conference champions, he wanted a second state title to add to his resume, and to break his own strikeout record. A hefty height to set the bar, but for Ricky this was not only his dream, but he believed was his destiny.
Each game that Carey Lakes played, especially when Ricky was scheduled to pitch, would bring out various scouts all armed with their radar guns. The hype surrounding his pitching never seem to bother Rickey, and he went about doing what he had been doing since coming to Carey Lakes, win ball games.
It was in the teams twenty-second game, and Ricky's thirteenth start when strikeout number two hundred and thirteen walked slowly back to the dugout. Two innings later Ricky had another game in the win column. Now with the conference title neatly tucked away, Ricky's next start would be the first game of the state tournament.
Although he now had a varsity record of thirty-six wins and only three losses, Ricky had only a one offer from a college other than the local junior college, and that was only a division three school. This after he led his team to back to back state titles and twice setting a new strikeout record. He couldn't understand it, three of his teammates had signed letters of intent with big time schools, and although they were excellent ball players, Ricky felt he was the major reason the team did so well.
Ricky didn't give up on his dream, and during the summer he pitched, and pitched well for a local semi-pro team. He could have made about fifty bucks a game, but he declined payment of any kind to insure he would still be illegible in the event a college may somehow show an interest. Like high school, the mounting strikeouts didn't attract scouts like he had hoped. One night after setting down seventeen batters in just six innings, a friend introduced him to a scout from Florida State University.
After the half hour conversation ended, Ricky finally was given the reason many scouts simply brushed his strikeout record under the rug, his pitches lacked the velocity that scouts thought so important. College scouts, and especially the pros want the upper eighties to mid nineties pitchers. Then the junk, curveballs, splitter etc, could be taught, but without the speed nothing else mattered.
Two more summers of setting all sorts of records as far as strikeouts were concerned, and Ricky finally gave up his dream. After all, he was now twenty-three and had to get on with his life.
The following spring Ricky married his high school sweetheart, Becky, and hung up the spikes for good. Taking night classes at the local junior college, Ricky worked for five years to get an associates degree. With a daughter who just turned three, and another child on the way, Ricky forgot about trying to get a bachelors degree, and continued his hard work as a sales rep.
Always one to lend a hand when needed, Ricky was quick to help his neighbor work on downing the large maple tree that threatened the fall on his neighbors garage. Together, they had most of the larger branches on the ground, and were now attempting to take down the bulk of the tree in sections. Ricky steadied the ladder, while his neighbor struggled trying to get the chainsaw re-started. A combination of sweat and the oil on the handle made the saw hard to hold on to, and suddenly with one last pull the saw started, but it slipped from his neighbors hands. Although the blade normally doesn't spin while at idle, his neighbor had revved it up a bit just before it fell. Before the blade had come to complete stop, it struck Ricky on top of his right shoulder, severing both muscle and tendons.
The ambulance wheeled Ricky into the emergency room where doctors hurried to stop the heavy bleeding. A through examination by two specialists, and it was determined that Ricky was in danger of losing the use of his right arm, the same arm he used to set so many strikeout records. With the amount of damage in the shoulder meant major re- constructive surgery was required.
It was determined that Ricky needed tendons from elsewhere, and the possibility of taking a few large tendons and muscle from his leg may be one solution. Of course that would mean reduced strength in one leg, but wasn't that better than an arm that didn't work? Before surgery was scheduled, another specialist was consulted from the Mayo Clinic. He concurred that, yes tendon and muscle transplant may be a solution, but suggested a donor be used. Since many donors pledge organs, there was no reason not to use donated tendons and muscles.
Since Ricky was not on a list to receive a major organ, getting tissue from a deceased leg was not a problem at all, and surgery was set for the following afternoon. Ricky and his wife were given a list of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and without giving it a second thought; Ricky agreed to have the operation.
Thirteen hours of painstaking microsurgery, and Ricky lay in the recovery room in a drug-induced sleep. It was three weeks before he was allowed to go home, and then nine months of having his arm secured in soft cast. Six months of rehab, and Ricky was now given the ok to use his arm. Being cautious, Ricky picked up the rubber ball his daughter had left in the middle of the floor and gently tossed is against the wall. Ricky felt no pain what so ever, and repeated this routine several times. Still no pain or discomfort was present, and he decided to give it a little tougher test.
Finding an old baseball in a cabinet in the garage, Ricky went out into the back yard and tossed it gently against the brick sided garage. After about ten minutes of this Ricky felt he had sufficiently loosened up and began to throw just a bit harder. He then began throwing at a medium speed, and as before no pain could be felt.
Now as part of his rehab, Ricky would go to the park and throw about fifty pitches against the backstop or would find a volunteer to play catch with. Each day he would try to throw just a bit harder than the last, and soon he felt like he could actually pitch in a ballgame. Not only could he still snap off a nasty curve, but also it felt like he actually was throwing a lot harder than before. The rest of the summer, Ricky stuck faithfully to the rehab routine of warming up, and then would make fifty or sixty pitches.
Though it was a little more difficult to actually throw during the winter, Ricky still did what his doctor prescribed as far as continued rehab. Finally in late March, Ricky was told that it appeared that his arm was now completely healed, and he should be able to do what ever he did in the past.
With the baseball season fast approaching, the competitive juices began to flow, and Becky was quick to notice. She felt pained knowing that his life long dream of pitching in the major leagues would never be realized, but an article in the local paper caught her eye. As part of the season long promotions to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the ball club, the Chicago White Sox had scheduled an amateur-pitching contest to be held on the Sunday before Memorial Day, a rare scheduled double-header. She cut out the contest form, and called her friends, neighbors and family relatives to save the form for her. She figured the more entries, the better the change they would pick Ricky's name. After a week or so and no response, Becky put the contest in the back of her mind.
On Saturday, two weeks before the promotional amateur pitching contest was to take place, Ricky stared at the letter that showed the letterhead of the Chicago White Sox as the return address. He assumed it was another letter trying to sell partial season tickets, and just tossed it on the table with the rest of the "junk" mail. When Becky returned from shopping, she glanced down at the mail and let out a scream. "Oh my gosh!!"
Ricky ran into the kitchen to see what happened as say Becky waving the envelope at him. She was hopping around like a child on Christmas morning, and was urging Ricky to open it up. "Go ahead Rick, open it. Hurry."
Finally he tore open the envelope and began to read the letter that stated that he was one of the winners of the contest. Since he hadn't seen the article, he was confused. "What contest? I don't remember entering any contest. Do you know what this is all about?"
"Yes, I entered your name when I read about it way before the season began. I figured if they pulled your name out, you could at least get to pitch in a major league field."
Ricky thought about it as he again read the letter, and heaved a big sigh and just shook his head to say no. The rest of the day Becky pleaded with him to go ahead and to it. Finally he relented when she reminded him that the children would get a charge out of it. On Monday, he called the number provided in the letter and was told to be at the park at 9:00 a.m. sharp to go over the details of the promotion.