A few weeks ago I made a mental note of this date. Today at 6pm was the final game of a three game series in Altoona between the Curve and the New Britain Rock Cats. Why did I make the mental note? There is a player on the Rock Cats roster who is far from ordinary. His name is Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil, and he is 7′ 1″ tall. That makes him the tallest man to play professional baseball.
I was tired this afternoon and I had some work I should have done. I wrestled with the decision. Should I go or should I stay? Van Mil is pitching out of the bullpen–and coming into today’s game had only four appearances all year–so the odds of me seeing him pitch were low. But I decided to go anyway.
Just seeing the team line up for the National Anthem was worth my ticket price. Van Mil stood beside teammate Chris Cates, who happens to be 5′ 3″ (an undersized David Eckstein). It was evident from the joking and laughing taking place among the players that Cates and Van Mil lined up beside each other intentionally.
The Curve were wearing high socks as a team; it was a good look. I still think the Reading Phils had a sweeter home uni, but this wasn’t bad. Justin Wilson started the game for Altoona.
On this day I did not have to hunt down a baseball connoisseur to talk to. In the third inning a long-time Curve fan sat beside me and we talked baseball on and off for the remainder of the game.
The teams traded blows before settling into a 4-4 tie for a few innings. During one changeover there was a pong-based game that pitted two fans against each other. The two contestants were rather young girls. One of the girls had serious pong skills and demolished her opponent. I’m not sure if her parents were proud or embarrassed.
In the 7th inning the New Britain starter ran into some trouble after a few easy innings. Van Mil suddenly began throwing in the bullpen. Just when it looked like he might enter the game a double play ground ball was hit.
When the bottom of the 8th inning started, the game tied 4-4, the Rock Cats’ bullpen was quiet. I began to abandon all hope of seeing Van Mil pitch. Then Altoona put together a couple hits. And then another one, which gave them the lead with two outs. In all likliehood there was only one out left for New Britian to record.
I had been watching the Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith the entire inning, trying to will him to emerge from the dugout. It finally worked. He walked onto the field, signalling for the right handed relief pitcher. Van Mil!
Van Mil came in throwing 93 mph fastballs. The scouting report I read on him was very accurate, for that is exactly what they reported. He ran a full count to the hitter, then gave up a single on a line drive up the middle that hit his glove (the Curve scored a run on the hit). The next batter he promptly struck out, so his line for the evening was 0.1 IP, 1H, 0BB, 0R, 1K.
New Britain rallied for one run in the 9th, making the final 6-5 in favor of Altoona.
I’m very glad I made the trip. It’s not every day you get to see a 7′ 1″ guy play baseball.