NEW YORK -- The 71-year-old man, slightly stooped from a few thousand too many batting practice pitches, crossed from the tunnel into the dugout and briefly recoiled like a possum who'd wandered under a sun lamp. Walking into the teeming buzz of an All-Star workout can intimidate the heartiest souls.
But quickly, Josh Hamilton appeared to whisk Clay Counsil away into the safety of Yankee Stadium's right field.As Hamilton tenderly walked Counsil by the arm, the affinity between Home Run Derby participant and his pitcher was vividly apparent. Yes, Hamilton, the folk hero of the 79th All-Star Game, would soon tee off in the State Farm Home Run Derby against a 71-year-old blast from his past. This is a simple story, although one that drives home the lesson of not forgetting where you came from, and those who gave you a push along the way. Counsil is a sandlot legend from the area of Raleigh, N.C., Hamilton's neck of the woods. He used to pitch hours of batting practice to Hamilton's older brother, then to Hamilton, during the American Legion and high school years. When he was added to the American League field for the Derby, Hamilton knew who he wanted with him in the spotlight. He called Counsil and asked, "Clay, what are you doing?" "I'm just gonna throw some batting practice to some boys here," Counsil answered. And Hamilton asked again, "What do you think about throwing in Yankee Stadium?" Old mentor and young student thus were reunited on a world stage, to recreate what they had done hundreds of times in virtual privacy. "You know, he's never expected anything back from anybody," Hamilton said. "Probably never got a lot of thank-you notes, either." Mr. Counsil got the Big Apple of thank-you notes on Monday night. It isn't his first visit to Yankee Stadium, but it is his first since -- if we are to believe the legend -- a Oct. 8 afternoon 52 years ago, when Don Larsen unfurled his World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Counsil obviously has a live arm and, apparently, a deadpan sense of humor. According to Hamilton, once the 71-year-old gopher pitcher recovered from the shock of the invitation, he said, "I might have a heart attack." Not to worry, Hamilton assured him. "We'll keep the medical staff on alert."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.