Big man (back) on campus

May. 08, 2013 @ 04:47 AM

When major league pitcher Todd Coffey took the mound last Thursday, he did not break into his trademark sprint. It was not the eighth inning of a tie game. The go-ahead run wasn’t on base, nor was he facing a feared homerun hitter, but he was under pressure.

Faced with the task of throwing out the first pitch before the Chase and Burns game, where he had his number retired, Coffey went into an abbreviated windup and delivered a pitch that fell short of and sank well below the strike zone.

“I was a little nervous,” Coffey admitted. “I wanted to throw a good pitch, but at the same time I wanted the catcher to catch the ball. I hadn’t warmed up so I just lobbed it in there and it dove on me. Everybody seemed to get a good laugh out of it.”

Even though the first pitch missed the strike zone, the rest of the day’s events were right on target for the Rutherford County native.

“Having your jersey retired at any level is an honor,” said Coffey. “But to have it done here at Chase where I have so many memories is special.”

Of those many memories, two stand out for Coffey.

“The funniest thing that happened was when we were playing up on the other field and the portable fence fell down,” he said. “We had to delay the game while the whole team ran to set it back up. My most memorable game was against Bandys. I had a no hitter going through 6 2/3 innings and I threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle. It was a mistake and I gave up a hit. Coach (Chris) White was out of the dugout letting me hear about it before the runner had gotten to first base.”

Before the game, Coffey offered advice to the current set of Trojans that he hopes will stick in their own memories.

“I asked the team how their season was going and they told me that it wasn’t going very well. Then I asked them if they were still having fun playing baseball and they all said 'yes.' That’s the most important thing," Coffey said. "As long as you are having fun playing baseball, it’s a great season, no matter what your record is. You don’t need to take baseball for granted because every game could be your last. You need to have fun more than anything else.”

Coffey is also hopeful that his retired jersey will offer encouragement.

“The team or maybe even a young fan will get to see it every day when they come to a game and know that anything is possible. Hopefully, it will give them the incentive to work harder and strive to be where I'm at right now.”

For now, that place is Rutherford County, as Coffey is currently rehabbing from Tommy John’s surgery, but he hopes to be back on a Major League mound by July.

“The rehab is right on schedule and I’m looking forward to pitching again,” he said. “But in many ways, my injury was a blessing because I get to spend time with my kids. I was able to go to a daddy/daughter dance the other day and a little league game. That’s something I could never have done if I was pitching right now. I believe everything happens for a reason.”

As much as Coffey is enjoying his time away from the game, baseball keeps calling him back to the mound.

“Man, I wish I was out there playing,” Coffey said as Chase took the field and the game began. “There is just something about the game that I can’t get enough of. It is truly a team sport. Baseball is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I can’t wait to start playing again.”