The 1997 youth league baseball season had started innocently enough for Todd Douglas. For the third year in a row, he and his Angel teammates had the benefit of a pitching machine. It was a large, blue, three-legged electrical contraption with a spinning rubber wheel set on the pitcher’s mound, approximately 45 feet from home plate. Once it was in position, all the coach had to do was drop the baseball into a steel feeder tube that was mounted on the top. The machine did the rest. Each year, the league officials set the speed of the machine a few miles an hour faster than it had been the year before.
But, at the end of the day, it still was a machine, and like most machines, it was very predictable. Oh sure, there were very rare occasions when a coach or a player would accidentally jostle it or trip over and disconnect the electrical cord, causing the machine to misfire and the resulting pitch to either sail wildly over an unsuspecting batter’s head or to fall harmlessly to the ground at the batter’s feet. For the most part, however, the machine made sure that every pitch came right over the center of the plate at precisely the same speed. It was a hitter’s dream come true – and Todd Douglas took full advantage of it.
With what seemed like minimal effort and almost no practice, Todd became one of the league’s best and most consistent hitters. Game after game, day after day, Todd pounded out hit after hit, line drive after line drive, home run after home run, as if he had been hitting a baseball his entire life. Unlike a number of other players, including all of his Angel teammates, Todd never struck out when facing the pitching machine. In fact, as I think back on it, I can’t remember a single time that Todd ever swung at and missed a pitch thrown by the machine. He was greatly admired by his teammates, and he and his hitting quickly became the talk of the league.