There's a case to be made that no action in sports puts into play more possible outcomes than a baseball thrown from a pitcher's hand, and arguably, no team player in all of sports is more on the spot than a relief pitcher.
Indeed, with the game on the line, all eyes in the stadiuym and at home are fixated on that lonesly soul on the mound. He's even elevated a foot or two above the other players to emphasize both his importance and solitude. Yes, the starting pitcher has a ton of pressure, but while he has time to work things out, the reliever has to come through ASAP.
A former athlete myself, I am fascinated by the mechanics of pitching, especially the difficult in repeating the throwing motion, particularly under in-game pressure. This is similar to the workaday efforts that a basketball player spends on his shooting stroke and a QB on his throwing motion.
I've been lucky enough to make sports my vocation and avocation. I set several basketball records at Hunter College in New York, coached in the Continental Basketball Association alongside Phil Jackson, and then went on to coach on my own. I co-authored a best-selling book with Phil, penned many more books and magazine articles, and now make my pro hoops column deadline four times a week for a national sports website. And I still get a thrill out of the tension in a basketball locker room, hearing the boise of the crowd just outside the door. The joy of teamwork, the sweat, the winning. And yes, the badges of injury: a broken nose, a few loose teeth, an achy knee.
Even so, baseball was my first love. Since I grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, my childhood was measured by the dozens of Yankees games I attended every spring, summer, and fall. If I wasn't good enough to play the game on a professional level (I had a pitching tryout at Yankee Stadium after college), I've always wanted to capture the humanity of big-league baseball as well as the universe of numbers that governs the game--some real, some overstated in importance. Baseball is a game of fractions and emotion, stats and action, head and heart.
Here is the account of a year in the life of a bunch of guys--some famous, some not-yet, some already out of the game as you read this--who put on Yankee pinstripes, grabbed a glove and ball, warmed up the bullpen, and then walked out into the glare of the most intense spotlight in professional sports to try to throw a ball past the game's best hitters, and won or lost.