Chris Bootcheck’s life ran head-on into his past.
Thirteen years ago, Bootcheck was selected 20th overall by the Angels. After three months of negotiating, a contract was finally agreed upon and Bootcheck reported to Edison Field, where — if it’s anything like it is now — he went through a physical, signed a contract containing a $1.8 million bonus, and held a news conference.
Friday morning he was called up from triple-A Scranton to the Yankees. Friday night he was called in to pitch the eighth inning. He went to the mound, dug a nice foothold in front of the rubber, and delivered an 89 mph ball to Alberto Callaspo. That pitch came at Angels Field of Anaheim, formerly Edison Field. The almost four-year quest back to the majors, one that took the scenic route from Yokohama, Japan, to Durham, North Carolina, to Busan, South Korea, to Toledo, Ohio to Scranton, Pennsylvania, had to end in the same place Bootcheck’s career started.
Shouldering a dream that should be dead, he had to return to the beginning.
The problem, though, was that the story didn’t end with that first pitch or with a no hitter. Bootcheck came in during a game the Yankees were trailing and would eventually lose. Few, if any, seemed to notice Bootcheck completing the circle of his baseball life. A Google search reveals nothing written about that aspect. Maybe it was because he didn’t pitch all that well. Maybe it’s because he hasn’t been allowed to pitch since.
That first ball wasn’t the only he would throw that day. He would walk Callaspo to start the inning and then allow a single to Chris Ianetta, leaving him with runners on first and third with no outs. But remember his days in Toledo? He used to do this all the time just to give the game a little zest and him a little challenge.
The next batter, Erick Aybar, struck out while chopping his feet at a breaking ball that dove out of the zone. (Highlights of Bootcheck are here by the way.) This results in my favorite moment of the outing. After seeing the ump call the strike out, Bootcheck gives a little side hop and walk to the batter. He’s supposed to know what it’s like, he’s supposed to act super professional, not showing any emotion. But sometimes you can’t deny the side hop. Bootcheck the stoic was broken down. There was still a part of him that realized, “OH MY GOODNESS, I’M BACK IN THE FRIGGIN’ MAJORS, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH MY LIFE.”
He then got a chopping grounder that resulted in Callaspo getting thrown out at the plate. Two down. No runs. Not bad.
Then came Mike Trout. The 21-year-old was probably still wetting his pants when Bootcheck signed his first contract, but he didn’t spare old RHP, singling in a run to make it 5-2, Angels.
Another walk loaded the bases for Albert Pujols. Was Bootcheck scared? Ha. Remember, he had faced Scott Hatteburg in his hayday. Only one pitch was needed to get Pujols to pop out to end the inning, the only of his major league career thus far.
The line isn’t vomit-inducing, but it doesn’t smell like puppies either: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K.
He’s the last arm in the bullpen. He may only pitch ing ames taht the Yankees are losing by five runs.
But Bootcheck completed the circle.
Side hop for life.