The Duke of Fastballs

To Mr Orlando Hernandez,

In September 2000, my older brother took me to my first ever baseball game at the SkyDome in Toronto. It is one of the memories I hold dear to my heart and I will never forget the day itself as it was meant to be a birthday surprise to me that was accidentally ruined by my father.

You see, as a kid growing up, I had a red New York Yankees button up jacket that I wore with pride everyday to school. This is before I understood that the Yankees played in the same division as the Blue Jays and so all I understood was that I had a jacket that was the envy of the entire school. One fateful day, my older brother decided he wanted to treat me for my birthday and take me to a Blue Jays-Yankees game, but it was meant to be a surprise. He simply told me that he was taking me somewhere and that I should get ready to leave after school by around 5pm. All day at school I wondered what the surprise could be and where I was going, so once 5pm hit, I grabbed my Yankees coat but was stopped by my father who told me that I might not want to wear that jacket today and suggested I put on my Pittsburgh Penguins coat instead. When I asked why, my father squirmed and, unable to keep a secret from his baby son, whispered to me that my brother was taking me to the Blue Jays game and that I wouldn’t want to be cheering for the away team over the Blue Jays. In addition to being terrible at keeping secrets, my father was equally terrible at keeping his voice down. My brother heard him and the surprise was ruined. Once I found out I was going to get to see the Yankees play, I was over the moon.

We arrived at the game a little early and took our seats in right field. You were starting that day and so naturally, you were warming up in the bullpen. Never had I seen a pitcher up close and personal before, so I stared in awe as you wound up with your signature leg kick and fired a few warmup pitches. I don’t know if you heard me gasp in awe or say ‘whoa’ in amazement at how fast I was witnessing a human being throw a baseball, but I will never forget you looking up at me, smirk and fire in a fastball even harder than the last. It is a memory I hold dear to my heart and it’s an honour to say that my first ever experience of live baseball was watching Orlando Hernandez, El Duque himself, warm up in the visiting bullpen at the SkyDome.

Over the years, I came to understand why our team was meant to hate the Yankees, and slowly I shed any and all association with the team. To this day, I refuse to wear anything with the intertwined NY symbol on it simply on principle itself. Also over the years, however, I always rooted for you to do well, even when you were pitching in pinstripes. I just wanted to thank you for all that you did for the game of baseball and all that you did to have an effect on my life in terms of falling in love with the game of baseball as well. It’s funny that even to this day, whenever I play catch with someone at 28 years of age, I will attempt to emulate your high leg kick at least once or twice as an homage to the man who showed me how fast a fastball really is. It could have been anyone else in the bullpen that evening, but fate put you in there and I thank you for giving me my first memory of baseball.

Yours Truly,

Zan Rathore

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