The Virtual Sammy Sosa

I was recently at a place called WonderWorks in Orlando, Florida. It’s the type of a hands-on science workshop that I wish existed when I was a kid. Maybe then I wouldn’t have such an aversion to science, or at least I wouldn’t keep my distance from it quite so much.

One of the exhibits they had was a pitching machine that offered people a chance to throw at a screen that featured either Derek Jeter (the most popular choice, from what I saw while waiting in line), Bobby Abreu (and a few anti-Yankees types chose to face him), or Sammy Sosa. As a long-time Cubs fan, Sosa was the obvious choice.

When my turn finally came, I cranked up my best fastball and threw it toward where the Virtual Sammy stood, waiting. The speed gun registered the pitch at 53 miles per hour, which seemed about 15-20 miles slower than what I thought I could throw. Most people probably wildly overestimate their abilities in this regard.

The screen I was throwing at not only measured the speed of the pitch, but it also determined if the pitch was a ball or a strike. The first pitch was declared a ball. The next two pitches were also called balls, although I did nudge the speed up to 55 MPH for one of them. It felt like I had to contort my shoulder to do it, though. Professional pitchers must put an extraordinary amount of stress on their arms to throw a ball in the 80s and 90s.

The count on the Virtual Sammy was now 3-0. Another ball and I would have walked him, ending the at-bat and my turn at the machine. I had to put this one in there. I did, and virtual Sammy swung, made contact, and promptly began making his way around the bases.

When I was a Cubs fan back in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Real Sammy did that a lot. And a number of the home runs were late in a game, when the Cubs were typically so far behind that a ninth inning home run meant about as much to the outcome of a game as his imaginary home run off of me did in the WonderWorks in Orlando.

So as I watched the Virtual Sammy rounding the bases, as the Real Sammy did so many times during his career in the majors, I took the extra ball that I had in my hand and chucked it at the screen. None of the Real Sammy’s home runs, during all of those years where he was on top of the heap for big league sluggers, came during the World Series. The Real Sammy got his individual numbers, and even won the National League’s MVP award once, but he never took his team–which, for much of his career, was also my team–into the World Series. That’s indicative of someone who never led his team to glory in what is, after all, a team game.

With my turn over, I debated whether or not to get back into the line. But I decided against it, knowing that the other two players meant nothing to me, and surrendering a second home run to the Virtual Sammy was the last thing I wanted to do. The Virtual Sammy’s homer, like the hundreds of others that the Real Sammy hit on a baseball field, amounted to nothing, when all was said and done.

That brief moment of catharsis, which I found by throwing a ball at the Virtual Sammy’s image while it was rounded the bases, felt better to me than anything that the real Cubs have done on the field in 2012. And that’s a sad commentary on the start of the Theo Epstein era in Chicago, isn’t it? But I suppose that’s a piece for another day.

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