On August 15th, 2019, Binghamton, New York, a small city swallowed by trees, was about to witness a great baseball battle. A battle that would result in the first win of the double-A season for the growing legend known as ‘Big Nate’, the samurai, who stabs his victims with speed.
The Binghamton carousel spun children around in circles like any other summer evening, as they sat on the historic horses carved from basswood. The music played. Cotton candy smiles. The Susquehanna River, off in the distance, kissed the southern part of the downtown core, which always casts a light glow, a hue of small-town colours, into the night sky.
This American city, which is gently tucked away from the horrors of the dark underworld, was about to witness a great storm – one of speed and deception. A storm that usually brings 102-mph speeds that could break the American Linden horses that the children like to ride.
The inhabitants of the land were not ready for the chaos that was about to blow in with the warm, summer wind that would soon be swallowed up by haze and clouds, but their Ponies were armed with bats.
The rain would eventually come, and the sky would eventually open, but before that, a samurai storm would settle into the sleeping city that night.
The air was about to be torn by swinging swords, stabbed, as the samurai slays all who stand in its way. Swing. Swung. Spin. Spun.
Nate Pearson: the slayer of all in unfair double-A battles, or so the legend goes.
On August 15th, though, the samurai was going to have to fight for his win. A fight that, at times, made him look human. There was a rumble in the sun settling sky. It was a rumble from ash and maple bats that were ready for his plan of attack.
Pearson, who was blasted to earth from a distant star of flames, sliders, and off-speed downward planes, understands that he was put on this Earth to maintain order between the white chalk batter’s box lines and defeat all of his opponents.
Sweat, grip, speed. The Samurai way: Slay or be slayed.
The Ponies sat ready in their dugouts, watching Pearson, as he warmed up on the dirt hill. He was set to deliver and stab them with speed. Unruly, as always.
Switch hitter, Sammy Haggerty, stepped into the left side of the batter’s box, as Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ played in the background. Atmospheric.
The Samurai set and delivered a first pitch, 94-mph fastball for a strike. Haggerty sat still in the box with his bat on his shoulder. He fouled back Nate’s next pitch, a 95-mph dagger.
The night began.
Nate touched the tip of his cap, looked into the outfield, at the overcast sky, the green hills in the background, and back down at the ball in his right hand. He turned around and looked at his catcher, Albert Mineo, who had the difficult task of catching one of the hardest throwing young arms in the world.
Mineo looked at his big righty, who stood 66-feet-and-six inches away from him. He decided to change it up and he flashed three fingers - an 85-mph off-speed pitch.
No three-digit heat.
The next pitch was an 89-mph off-speed slider. Haggerty swung, Haggerty missed.
Haggerty walked back to the dugout.
Nate smiled, as he watched his infield toss around the baseball, but the night wasn’t going to be that easy. The fight was just beginning - all 101 pitches for Nate. And 2,356 fans were about to watch the great August battle that had speed, sliders, off-speed, and dirt.
Right fielder, Barrett Barnes, set foot into the right side of the batter’s box next. He looked at the fierce Pearson, bat in hand, ready to swing the maple wood, ready to carve a path.
Fastball, fouled off.
Changeup, outside. Ball 1.
96-mph fastball, fouled off.
Mineo flashed the curve, but it didn't bend.
The organ played.
Mineo threw down the flame. Fastball, high.
Barnes, who was getting a feel for what the samurai was throwing, adjusted his batting glove and helmet. He gently touched the plate with his bat and looked at Nate on the mound.
Nate set and delivered.
(Dark sky, the humid air was thick, a hazy night, a rumbling hit.)
Barnes, carved a path, and barreled the ball, lining it into leftfield for a double.
The battle begun, as the moon pushed the sun across the sky.
Up next, Patrick Mazeika, from the left side:
Swung on and missed.
Cut on and missed.
It seemed like the night was going to be easy for Nate, but he had no idea what was about to hit him. He had no idea that he was going to have to fight for his first win.
David Thompson was ready to have his first look at Pearson. He didn’t appear to be afraid. He took a long look at his wooden weapon, stared at the barrel - ready to try to swing it through the path that drive baseballs.
Two quick balls, followed by one samurai strike. Next, a fastball, fouled off.
Thompson stepped outside of the box and looked at Nate.
(The grey skies watched from above, the rain waited, the battle continued.)
He stepped back in the lines, wood in hand, tapped the plate: Off-speed. Hit. Groundout. Fought.
It took 18 pitches. Nate had another 83 to throw.
The hills, off in the distance, a reminder of the peaceful nature of Binghamton. No rain, yet, just rumble, as the sky sat still. Humid. Haze.
Nate’s sweat dripped into the dirt, soaking his cap, and it bled into the baseball with every grip, and every toss before the samurai skies would open up on the night.
His win would not come easy. It would have to be earned.
Fastball. Slider. Breaking. Change. Nate Pearson needed to show he reigned.
Mineo came out in the second inning. His left hand, unfazed, by the weak mid-90s heat that Nate tossed his way in the first inning. He crouched down, looked at his young hurler, and began the next mile to the win.
Fingers tossed, sign read.
Swung on and missed by third baseman, Will Toffey, who had been struggling at the plate all season.
The following pitch was down and in. Off-speed sink. Missed the zone. Toffey held.
Mineo decided to go back to the heat, Pearson threw a 96-mph dagger, harmless, missing.
Next pitch, a 95-mph high fastball that was lined out to right.
Lefty bat, Gimenez, was next to dig his feet into the dirt, as he was ready to cut the thick air with his bat.
First pitch, lined to center. Easy. Two away. The Samurai slays.
Michael Paez was next. Fastball outside. Popped foul. Fastball outside. Popped foul. Popped foul. Changeup. Low. Ball 3. Next pitch, down and away. Ball 4.
Paez showed plate discipline. Paez walked to first.
Nate did not slay the zone.
Brody stepped in next, and Brody was stabbed by speed - and off-speed change, as the inning ended with a Pearson strikeout.
Mineo walked back with the ball in his mitt.
35 pitches, another 66 more to throw.
66 more pitches to get through 3.2 more innings to record 11 challenging outs. There was a mix of balls and strikes. And hitters battled, fouled the red-stitched leather into the stands. Some hit singles that cut through the night air. Some saw ball four.
One by one, though, inning by inning, Nate worked through it, as the dark sky creeped in and the night shadows swallowed the green hills off in the distance, as the rain waited.
Pearson, as always, stood on the dirt centre stage. Stadium lights. No hot dogs or American beer, just a ball in hand and his catcher’s call.
The ash and maple wood rumble left him frustrated though. His first inning smile was worked off of his face. But through each pitch, each foul, each walk and each hit, he left them stranded.
No Pony touched home plate with their cleats. And no fan would cheer, as a quiet stadium watched Pearson sweat. Fight. Win.
Big Nate worked. 5.2 innings. He threw 101 pitches, 60 of those for strikes. He surrendered 4 hits and 3 walks. 4 times the baseball was hit on the ground, 4 times for an out. 4 times the baseball was hit into the sky. 4 times for an out. It was a change-up mix, unusual.
He stabbed six batters with speed and off-speed sink and slide. He commanded, at times, lost the zone, at times. He didn’t dominate. There was no 100-mph speed.
The great pitching samurai, owner of the dirt hill, the legend of the fastball, won his first battle, but he had to earn it.
On August 15th, Nate Pearson looked human, but he got his first win. And the children of Binghamton, off in the distance, went around in circles on the old wooden carousel like it never even happened.