The night I pinch-hit for Votto


Dr. Sigmund Freud, an astute man, became known in his later years as the founder of psychoanalysis.

One morning after one particularly sweet dream, he turned to his wife and said, “Honey, please write this down — the imagery of a wish or impulse that has long since been repressed.”

Charles Dickens had a less scientific definition of dreams, describing Marley’s ghost in “A Christmas Carol” with the words, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”

Be it repression or an underdone potato, my dreams babble, ripple and trickle through the stream of my mind. Often nonsensical, they entertain me, nevertheless.

As my eyes closed, sweet slumber came. Our son, Greg, and I were relaxing in our family room watching the Cincinnati Reds play the New York Yankees when my phone rang. The voice on the other end asked if this was Pat Haley.

I replied, “Yes. This is Pat.”

“Our coaching staff was watching some film of you from your American Legion baseball days in Wilmington and wondered if you and your son would come down to the Great American Ballpark to try out for the Reds?” the amiable man said.

“Are you sure you have the correct Pat Haley?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! We watched you pitch for the Post 49 Legion team, and it looked like you had a great fastball. We also saw video of your son trying out for the Eastern Kentucky University baseball team. He has exceptional speed and a powerful arm. We’re sorry he got hit in the back,” the scout said.

Greg and I hopped in the car and headed straight to Cincinnati. The Reds’ owner, Bob Castellini, greeted us in the bullpen and offered us uniforms to put on. Greg was number 28, and I was number 18.

I strolled to the mound and limbered up my arm. I delivered a pitch and a guy with a radar gun yelled, “52!” I didn’t feel this was the proper time to bring up my arthritis.

Mr. Castellini handed me a contract. “Have your attorney review it and get back to us as quickly as possible.”

I read down two lines and saw “$5 million” and stopped reading. “Please give me a pen,” I said.

“We just timed Greg, and he is the fastest runner we have seen since Billy Hamilton. I can’t wait to sign him, too,” Castellini said.

Greg and I began walking toward the Reds dugout. “Mr. Castellini, do you realize I’m 74 years old, and Greg is 50?” I asked.

“I don’t care. You’ll fit in with our other starters. I’ll see you both at the game tonight. Don’t be late,” he laughed.

We remained at the ballpark and sauntered into the clubhouse. Every player turned around, looking at us in disbelief.

Lil Peep was blasting from the gigantic speaker in the corner. One player shouted, “Do we have some Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra music for grandpa?” Everyone hooted.

“Maybe play some Bill Monroe for his boy?” another yelled.

I smiled and thanked them for their warm welcome.

Greg and I walked back to the dugout with the rest of the team, not believing we were Cincinnati Reds players. The game was close. It was the bottom of the ninth inning. We were losing 1-0.

Then a player walked, and they sent Greg in to pinch-run. Joey Votto was the batter. On the next pitch, Votto fouled and hit his ankle. He had to leave the game.

“Haley, get in there. You’re going to hit for Votto,” David Bell, the manager yelled.

I could hear the groans in the dugout when the public address announcer said my name.

I walked to the plate on wobbly knees. The opposing pitcher was throwing 100 miles per hour. I dug in, just like I did 50 years ago.

On the first pitch, I hit the blinding fastball a mile.

“Gone!” the scoreboard flashed. I trotted to first base and grabbed the first base coach’s arm and told him breathlessly, “I’m out of air. I can’t run.”

“Then walk around the bases. You have to touch home plate,” the coach said.

It took awhile, but I finally reached home plate and then walked to the dugout. Mr. Castellini was waiting for me.

“Pat, I have good news and some bad news. Which do you want?” he asked.

I told him it didn’t matter.

“The bad news is, you are no longer a Cincinnati Red. The good news is, we sold your contract to the New York Yankees. See you in New York in October!”

Just then, my alarm clock went off. Was it really a blot of mustard or a crumb of cheese, I wondered?

I prefer to believe it was just every young boy’s dream, slipping down the valley of a thousand yesterdays.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.

Pat Haley Colntributing columnist Haley Colntributing columnist

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