Minor League team: Can you outpitch Moyer?
Class A Fort Myers stages stunt to best Majors' oldest pitcher
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jamie Moyer has only one Major League win this season, but every home game at Minor League ballpark Hammond Stadium might as well count as another victory for the oldest player in baseball.
That's because no one has been able to successfully out-throw the Rockies' 49-year-old lefty as part of the Class-A Fort Myers Miracle's ongoing promotion, which challenges fans to light up the radar gun with a pitch faster than the 78 mph heat Moyer has brought to the mound this season.
The promotion is simple. There's a speed pitch machine on the veranda in front of the stadium, two small posters attached to the side with Moyer's picture (and age, of course) in the bottom left corner. Above Moyer is the challenge, almost shaming passerby into participating: Can YOU throw faster than ME? On the other side, the conditions: "Greater than 78 mph = FREE TIX."
Entering Saturday's game between the Miracle and the St. Lucie Mets, 160 people had tried and failed. One fan came dangerously close to winning the prize, a free ticket to a Miracle home game, by hitting 77 mph. Dozens more gave it their best shot Saturday night, including this intrepid MLB.com reporter, who clocked in at 50 mph. Once again, they all left empty-handed.
"We're by no means mocking Jamie," said Gary Sharp, the Miracle's director of media relations and promotions. "We're mocking the people who think they can throw harder than a Major League pitcher."
Sharp came up with the idea last week, when Moyer became the oldest winning pitcher in Major League history. Sharp felt people didn't fully appreciate the left-hander's accomplishment, instead offering up the old-age and low-velocity jokes that have become so common since Colorado signed Moyer this offseason.
Sharp's response? Prove you can throw harder. So far, the only thing anyone's proven is that it's easier said than done.
"It seems attainable -- 78 doesn't seem that high -- but it's very hard," said 25-year-old Tony Goble, who clocked in between 41 and 45 mph. "I thought I'd at least get around 60-65 or somewhere around there. ... [Moyer's] impressive. It does have to do with technique more than strength, I'd think, but 49 years old throwing 78 mph? That's pretty good."
The people who monitor the promotion tell stories of intoxicated fans crow-hopping their way along the cement, unleashing heaves that miss the machine entirely, often making harmless contact with palm trees some 20 feet away.
Sharp tells another story of one frustrated fan on the first night of the promotion. He'd leave in a fit, come back and try again. He'd pay for a few children to try their luck. He'd step up and keep throwing 72-73, eventually topping out at 76. Finally, he concluded that the radar gun was simply broken.
Immediately after that declaration, a high schooler grabbed a ball and threw 73 mph. The fan pulled out a $20 bill. He ended up spending about $50, to no avail.
"That just goes to show you that no normal person is going to walk up there and throw 78-80 mph," said Miracle pitching coach Steve Mintz, who pitched in Triple-A until 2001 and had brief stints in the Majors in the '90s. "I'd like to see if I got out there and got loose if I'd be able to do it, personally.
"I'm pretty sure people out there are probably throwing with all their arm, trying to throw without using any part of their lower half," Mintz laughed.
If this continues, what will the Miracle do with the growing pile of $1 bills? Sharp said the team has exchanged ideas with the Moyer Foundation, run by Moyer and his wife Karen, and could end up donating some of the proceeds toward their charity.
"We would love to work something in where maybe we do benefit Jamie's charitable foundation," Sharp said, "maybe even get Jamie on an off night when the Rockies are in this area to come by to a Miracle game and make an appearance and really help his charitable foundation."
Eventually, someone will out-throw Moyer. Perhaps a former or current high school baseball star will clock in at 79 or 80 mph, maybe fall to their knees on the cement and celebrate as if they've just recorded the final out in Game 7 of the World Series.
But as of Saturday night, Moyer remains unbeaten at Hammond Stadium.
"I think it gets in people's heads," Sharp said. "I love all the bruised egos that are out here, especially the guys that show up with girlfriends or wives and they're trying to impress them. They're like, 'No problem! I can throw that hard,' then there's no way."