Saturday, November 3, 2012

A 65 Year Old Man Who Stunned The Sports World.

All his life, Lowell Lee had big dreams but he never seemed to excel in anything. He was an average guy, an average student and he spent his career in the lower levels of a large company, forgotten 10 minutes after his retirement at the age of 65.

Nor was Lowell athletic. At 5 ft. 9 in. and weighing 180 pounds, he had a big mid-section, for Lowell was sedentary, overweight and he hadn't been to a gym in years.

However there was one extraordinary thing Lowell had done. 45 years ago, he married Milly, the young lady who had been his high school sweetheart and the love of his life. And together, they have two grown sons and are now the proud grandparents of four grandchildren..

But since his boyhood, Lowell had a secret dream, one he always hoped to accomplish, but at his age, it now seemed impossible. That dream was to become a major league baseball player, even if only for a day.

But none of us ever knows what life has in store for us and our lives could change dramatically in an instant.

One morning while stepping out of the shower, Lowell slipped and injured his right shoulder. When the pain persisted and he was unable to fully raise his right arm, he went to the doctor. The doctor, prominent surgeon Dr. Judith Cohen, ordered an MRI of that shoulder and then broke the bad news to Lowell. She would need to operate on his shoulder.

With a heavy heart, Lowell agreed. Ten days later, he was in surgery, and afterward was in great pain for shoulders are complex and his shoulder required extensive restructuring. For the first month of  his recovery, Lowell had to sleep sitting up, as the shoulder began its six month healing process.

The physical therapy Lowell endured was intense and it too was painful.  And to add to his problems, he is right handed, and with his right shoulder incapacitated and his right arm in a sling, Lowell had to learn to do everything with his left hand.

It was all pretty depressing for Lowell, and as he looked back across his life, he became disillusioned, wondering why he never accomplished more in his career and why he never pursued that secret dream of becoming a baseball player.

Then one day, his dream began to happen. After six months, his right shoulder was largely healed and on a sunny Saturday afternoon,  Lowell was able to use that shoulder to play catch with his 10 year old grandson. While they were playing catch, he noticed his gentle tosses to the boy begin bobbing up and down, like a knuckle ball gone mad.

The boy called out, “Grandpa, how did you do that?” Lowell had no idea but as his tosses to the boy keep bobbing up and down. Lowell was excited and that weekend, he played catch with everyone who would join him and he found it was no fluke. Each time he tossed the ball, it bobbed up and down and was almost not catchable.

When Lowell pitched the ball to others, including to an older grandson who played baseball on his high school varsity team, no-one could hit it. Over the next two weeks, Lowell tested those pitches on batter after batter on his grandson's baseball team and again no-one could hit them.

Lowell could barely contain his excitement for he knew he was on to something special. Now it was time to be bold, something he had never been. Lowell called the Los Angeles Angels major league baseball team and asked to speak to the scouting department.

When a scout came on the line, 65 year old Lowell introduced himself and then with a big smile and a joyful heart said, “None of your batters will be able to hit my pitches. I promise you that. But you don't have to believe me. When is the next open tryout?”

“The next open tryout is in two weeks,” the scout replied. “But slow down for a minute. What pitching experience do you have?” “None,” Lowell responded. “How old are you,” the scout asked him. “I’m 65,” Lowell answered. When the scout stopped laughing, he asked “Is this a joke? Who put you up to it? I'll bet it was Eddie, my old scouting buddy with the Dodgers."

“I’ll be there in two weeks,” Lowell answered, a little irritated that he was being treated as a joke. “Just have a catcher ready with an over sized glove for it will be all he can do to catch the ball.”

On the day of the tryout, Lowell walked into Anaheim Stadium and it was magical. When Lowell was a boy, he and his dad used to go to Angel baseball games there and over the years, Lowell would take his boys to see the Angels play there as well and then his grandsons.

As Lowell stood on the playing field, it was a dream come true. The grass had the scent of being freshly mowed and it was bright green. The infield was a well-tended red-brown clay. Lowell looked up into the stands and saw the various places he and his dad and he and his sons and grandsons had sat. And now he was on this magical field!

But soon Lowell's dream became a nightmare. At 65 years old he was by far the oldest player there, 40 years older than any other player trying out for the team. Lowell was quickly shuffled off to the sidelines as the coaches and scouts viewed him as a joke.

Finally, as the two hour tryout was ending without him ever having a chance to show his pitches, Lowell raised his voice and issued a challenge,. “If any of you can hit one of my pitches, you will never hear from me again. I promise. Grab a bat and see what you can do.”

At first, the coaches and scouts started laughing and jeering, along with the players at the tryout as they looked at the old man’s gray hair and slow gate and his heavily lined face and sizable mid-section. Finally, a 40 year old coach stepped up to the plate, bat in hand, a big mocking grin across his face. “Come on old man, show us what you got,” he sneered.

65 year old Lowell lobbed the first pitch and the 40 year old saw how slow the pitch was moving and swung with all his might, stumbling and almost falling over, as he swung and missed. Now the obnoxious laughter was aimed at the 40 year old coach for not slamming the ball out of sight.

Lowell tossed the next pitch and again the 40 year old coach lunged at it and missed. And he swung and missed every pitch Lowell threw. The laughter stopped as everyone drew near for a better look.
Soon one by one other coaches stepped up to the plate and each one swung with all his might and none could hit a single pitch.

The scouting director had been standing on the sidelines watching this remarkable display, Staring at Lowell, he reached for his cell phone and called the Angel's manager, Mike Wilson and said, "Mike, come down here on the field. You are about to see something incredible."

Mike Wilson had been a long-time major league catcher and a very good hitter. When he arrived on the field, the scouting director said "Mike, grab a bat and see if you can hit that old man's pitches."

Mike looked at Lowell on the pitcher's mound and looked at the scouting director, and laughed. "Go ahead Mike," the scouting director said while looking Mike in the eye. "See if you can hit even one pitch."

As Mike stepped up to the plate, he gripped the bat tightly and said, "Show me your best pitch." "I only have one pitch, and it is my best," Lowell replied. Mike pounded home plate with his bat and than said, "bring it." Lowell lobbed the pitch, and as it bobbed up and down, Mike swung will all his might.

And missed it. Mike swung and missed the next five pitches Lowell threw as well. Mike stepped out of the batters box and walked over to the scouting director and they began to talk. A moment later, Mike called out to Lowell, "We have batting practice at 6 pm tonight prior to the game. Be here. We'll have a field pass waiting for you. I want you to pitch some batting practice to our starting lineup of players to see if they can hit your pitches."

Lowell was thrilled. "Thank you," he called out. "I'll see you then."

It was all Lowell could do to wait the four hours until 6 pm, but when the time came, he claimed his pass and took the field. Already there were several thousand fans there to watch batting practice even though the came wouldn't start for another hour and a half.

Lowell watched as the batters hit the ball a country mile, one pitch after the next as the coaches pitched batting practice. Then Mike called out to him, "Go out to the pitching mound, it's your turn."

As Lowell looked at Mike, he saw Mike's boss, the general manager standing next to him.

The batter stepped up to the plate, a young budding superstar Lowell had read so much about and had seen on television. Lowell's heart beat rapidly for if anyone on the Angels could hit his pitches, it was this young man. Lowell threw the first pitch and the young man swung with all his might and missed.

Now the other Angel players gathered behind home plate to see for themselves. Lowell threw the next pitch and the young man swung and made limited contact as he foul tipped it. Lowell threw several more pitches and the best this budding young superstar could do was foul of a few of them  away, as he missed most of them.

"That's enough," Mike called out. "It's late in the baseball season but my boss and I would like to sign you to a contract to finish these last few weeks of the season with the team. You just need to pass a physical exam tomorrow. The next day Lowell passed that physical exam and signed the contract.

The following day, the Angels held a big press conference to introduce Lowell, including his age and to tell the world of his ability to throw this remarkable pitch. The sportswriters and sportscasters were stunned to see someone as old as Lowell, in some cases as old as their parents, who was now about to become the oldest man ever to play in a major league baseball game.

"How do you throw that unusual pitch," one sportswriter called out. "I don't know," Lowell replied. "What makes it so effective against hitters," came a followup question. "It throws off a hitter's timing and rhythm," Lowell answered.

"What happens if the other team's hitters start blasting your pitches," another sportswriter asked. And Mike replied, "We'll pull Lowell out of the game." "When will he pitch," asked a sportscaster. "Probably in the next night or two," Mike replied. Finally, the Angels ended the press conference with Mike saying, "We'll see you all at the games and you can judge for yourselves."

Meanwhile, the blogosphere went crazy with people speculating, as the word about Lowell spread nationwide and around the world.

That night, the Angels played the Seattle Mariners, but the game was close and Mike never put Lowell in. But the following night, the Angels fell nine runs behind and by the 7th inning, fans started chanting "Low-ell," "Low-ell," "Low-ell" so loudly, it was almost deafening.

Finally, Mike called the bullpen and said, "Start warming Lowell up, he's going to pitch the 9th inning. After he hung up the phone, Mike began thinking how no-one has ever played in the major leagues at Lowell's age, and what if things go wrong.

With a sigh, Mike called the bullpen back and said, "In addition to Lowell, start warming up Reilly as well." He then hung up the phone and said to one of the coaches, "If this goes bad, I'm going to be the laughing stock of global sports."

When the top of the 9 th inning came, the Angels took the field to a deafening roar when the crowd say Lowell walk to the mound. And when the announcer announced his name as "Now pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, Lowell Lee," Lowell was now officially in the game, which broke the age record for any player ever in the major leagues.

After a few more warm up tosses, the umpire shouted "play ball" and not only did the crowd stand, so did the Seattle Mariners as the first batter stepped up to home plate. Lowell was nervous and after pacing the mound, wound up and threw the first pitch. As the batter swung and missed, the crowd exploded in cheers.

With the next pitch, the batter swung and missed again, as he did on the following pitch, and Lowell had his first out, as the crowd cheered their approval. The next two batters struck out as well without ever hitting the ball. As Lowell walked off the mound and back to the dugout among a standing ovation, he looked up at the crowd and smiled as he took off his baseball cap and waved it at them in appreciation for their support.

And with tears in his eyes, he looked up at this family sitting behind the dugout, as he saw them standing with the rest of the crowd.

In the locker room after the game, the players and coaches high fived Lowell with their handshakes and their were even some hugs and pats on the back. Never in Lowell's life had he received such adulation.

The next day the Angels went on the road, their first stop being Oakland, to play the A's. When the team arrived, the Bay area sports media converged on Lowell, and relentlessly broadcast or published stories about him. But in the first two games of the series, Lowell was never called upon to pitch despite the crowd calling out his name.

But in the 9 th inning of the third game, as the crowd exploded in cheers, Lowell took the mound and got each batter out. But this time, two of the batters did make contact with the ball, hitting soft ground balls to the infielders who threw them out. he and the Angel team realized that he was not quite as invincible as he had been. But still, Lowell had a perfect record: 6 batters up, 6 batters out.

The next stop for the Angels was Seattle to play the Mariners. Once again, the local sports media converged on Lowell and he was heavily featured in their broadcasts and published stories, but the crowd didn't have to wait to see him pitch. This time he took the mound in the first game of the series, and as usual, to pitch the 9 th inning. he struck out the first two batters but the third batter hit a pop fly, which the Angel second baseman easily caught, as Lowell's record remained perfect: 9 batters up, 9 batters out.

Lowell didn't pitch again in that series despite the calls from the crowd, as the Angels returned home to play the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees. The Yankees were already playoff bound as they envisioned themselves in the World Series.

Meanwhile, the Angels had a chance to make the playoffs but they would have to sweep the three game series against the Yankees to do it, a virtual impossibility as far as the Las Vegas odds makers were concerned.

But Lowell was excited, for this was the dream of the dream of a lifetime. Not only pitching in the major leagues, but against the world's best team. He couldn't wait to pitch against them. But Lowell had noticed a tingling in his right shoulder, although it was not painful and it hadn't caused him a problem.

Yet he realized he should speak with Dr. Cohen who had performed the shoulder surgery to be sure everything was alright. Lowell made an appointment to see her, and she in turn quietly examined his right arm and then ordered an M.R.I. to get a good look inside to understand what was happening.

When she got the results a day later, she called Lowell and asked him to come to her office. When he arrived, she had a sullen look on her face and her shoulders were stooped. "Surely the news isn't as bad as this," Lowell said.

"Have a seat," Dr. Cohen replied. "What the M.R.I. and my examination reveal is that your right shoulder can't handle the stress of pitching. If you continue to pitch, you could easily do so much damage, that no surgeon could repair it and you would lose the use of your right arm."

Lowell sat in silence, as he stared at Dr. Cohen and then looked off into space. Finally he said in a very soft voice, as he looked intensely into Dr. Cohen's eyes, "There is only one more game I want to pitch. It is against the New York Yankees." Dr. Cohen shook her head and replied, "Don't you understand what I'm saying to you. I can't be responsible for what might happen to your arm if you do pitch again."

"I understand Dr. Cohen," he answered. "But this is something I must do."

That night, Lowell sat down with his manager Mike Wilson and the pitching coach and broke the news to them. "What would you like us to do," Mike said. "We would never want to endanger the use of your arm."

"I would like to pitch in one more game," Lowell said. "Which ever game you choose, and I promise I will give it my best."

"One more thing," Lowell added. "Please don't share this information with anyone. I don't want the Yankees or my teammates or the fans to know for I don't want any one's sympathy. I will inform my family and that will be it." The three men shook hands on their common understanding and parted company.

When Lowell informed Milly and their sons, Milly cried out. "Please don't pitch anymore," she said with tears running down her cheeks. "Are you sure this is something you want to do," asked one of their sons. "It is," Lowell replied. "I've waited my whole life for this and it is something I must do."

That night, Anaheim Stadium was sold out and late in the game, the fans started chanting for Lowell to pitch, but Mike never put him in. None the less, the Angels still won.

The next night was also a sellout and once again, late in the game the fans chanted for Lowell to pitch but Mike again didn't put him in and again the Angels won. After the game, when the media converged on Mike, shouting why didn't he use Lowell, Mike replied, "The game situation tonight and last night didn't call for him to pitch."

On the final night of the three game series, not only was Anaheim Stadium sold out but the television ratings were going through the roof, as people gathered around their television sets to see if the Angels would win a three game sweep over the Yankees and make the playoffs and to see Lowell pitch, for on a game this big, he would surely be called upon to pitch.

But in the 9th and likely the final inning, the Angels led 2 to 1. But in that inning the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs. Stepping to the plate was their superstar, Rick Rinaldi who was on his way to winning the batting championship and with 48 home runs, the home run title as well.

Rinaldi would surely be named the league's Most Valuable Player, and he was a nightmare to every pitcher in the league. As the Yankees were loading the bases, Mike called upon Lowell to start warming up in the bullpen, and now he needed Lowell at his best.

As Rinaldi loosened up at home plate, Mike walked out to the pitcher's mound and took the ball from his pitcher, thanking him for the effort he had made, Mike then motioned to the bullpen and out came Lowell to cheers so loud, he could hardly hear himself think, as the crowd came to its feet.

Rinaldi had heard about Lowell, but looking at this 65 year old heavy set man walking to the pitcher's mound made him grin and nod his head with confidence. It is widely believed that during a game in the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth pointed to a place in the stands beyond the outfield wall and then hit a pitch for a home run, exactly where he had pointed.

As he stepped to the plate, Rinaldi now did the same thing, pointing to a spot beyond the center field wall. This bold gesture for an instant silenced the crowd, as it did television viewers everywhere as well. For everyone knew baseball history was about to made,

Lowell began to nervously fidget, as took his cap off and put it back on and tugged at his jersey, as he paced around the pitcher's mound trying to calm himself. He never envisioned this much pressure..

Finally he stood on the pitcher's mound staring at Rinaldi, wound up and threw the first pitch. As he released the ball, Lowell felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. The ball didn't seem to have its usual magic and Rinaldi hit it hard, but it curved foul. Strike one!

Now it seemed a thousand thoughts raced through Lowell's mind. Would he loose the use of his right arm if threw the next pitch? Would Rinaldi hit a home run? Would all of the people who had been so supportive of Lowell now turn on him, suddenly condemning him to sports history as a loser? And what would his family think? Was he a fool not to ask his manager Mike Wilson to replace him with another pitcher?

After taking a deep breath, Lowell threw the next pitch, his arm aching even more than before. And Rinaldi swung with all of his might, and missed the pitch. Strike two!

Now the stadium crowd was on its feet, and their voices fell silent. Lowell paced the mound and then turned to face home plate and Rinald. As got ready to throw the next pitch, his fears raced through his mind. Would Rinaldi hit the pitch for a home run? Would throwing that pitch damage his shoulder so badly, he would need surgery and never again be able to raise his arm?

In a sense, it seemed like all of Lowell's life had led to this moment.

Then after a deep sigh, he threw the pitch. It seemed to take forever to get to home plate, but when it did, Rinaldi swung with every muscle of his powerful body.

And missed. Strike three! Game over. Angels win!

As the crowd gave Lowell a standing ovation, he took off his baseball cap and waved it in appreciation. At that instant, he was swarmed by his teammates who lifted him up and carried him off the field and into the clubhouse.

As the players celebrated, the media now swarmed Lowell, with their television cameras and microphones and they took pictures and shouted questions.

But all Lowell wanted to do was to look for his family, who waded through the hundreds of members of the media to reach him, as Milly and his sons and grandchildren hugged and kissed him, all of them sharing in this very special moment.

The Angels would now go on to the playoffs, but Lowell had thrown his last pitch. With a deep sense of gratitude, he thanked the Angel management for giving him the opportunity to pitch for them and said goodbye to everyone.

For Lowell had achieved his life's dream, and was now ready to move on with his life, and to finding a new dream to replace what for most of his life had seemed like a fantasy.

He felt a warm glow like nothing he had ever known, a sense of accomplishment, but most important of all, a sense of gratitude for Lowell believed he had been chosen by a Higher Power to have such an incredible and fulfilling experience.


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