Brad Rock: Cooperstown calling — Utah pitcher perfect on ideal day
SALT LAKE CITY — Cy Young would have approved. So would Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn and all the other Hall of Fame pitchers that gathered at Cooperstown, N.Y., this year on Independence Day.
They weren’t there physically, having long ago retired to the big clubhouse in the sky. But it’s hard to imagine them missing out in spirit. A summer day. Red, white and blue bunting on green ball-yard fences. A hundred-and-four teams at a youth tournament near the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A perfect day for Kyson Stein, of West Jordan, to pitch a perfect game.
Cue the John Philip Sousa music.
“I was just in tears,” Stein’s mother, Kristal Talbot, said this week.
Of 18 batters, Stein struck out 15, setting them up with knee-buckling curves and breaking them down with 74-mph fastballs, as the Utah Horns defeated the Coppell Cowboys, of Texas, 7-0. Stein threw 73 pitches, including 58 strikes. The three batters that did connect grounded out.
Nobody came close to reaching base in the six-inning game.
“None,” said Stein, who turned 13 this month.
“Nope,” his mother reiterated.
Though the Horns finished sixth in the tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park, they returned home to win the Triple Crown World Series in Park City, last week. While the Series was crucial, the Cooperstown tournament was all about atmosphere. The fields have 200-foot foul lines, which allow many of the 17,000 participants each summer to experience circling the bases. Getting in an old-time mood is seldom difficult for Stein. His favorite movie, until recently, was “The Sandlot,” a nostalgic baseball movie filmed in Utah. But it was superseded in Stein’s mind by “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson’s fight for equality.
Although Stein is a .500 hitter, and had five homers during the tournament in Cooperstown, his pitching is less predictable.
“It’s kind of funny, but we say when Kyson’s on, he’s on, but he has days when he’s not on,” his mother said. “But when he does, nobody can hit him. He has a curveball that is crazy; the movement on it is just crazy.”
Despite the symmetry of the game nearly a month ago, she said she wasn’t aware her son had pitched a perfect game until fans surrounded her afterward. She’s a nervous watcher, frequently looking away or pacing to avoid jitters. Her son, on the other hand, was unfazed.
“Every single person on my team came up to me (during the game) and said, ‘You know what you’re doing, right?’” he said.
When only one out remained, his shortstop approached the mound and said, “Hey, you’re gonna throw a perfect game right here.”
“I’m like, ‘Really?’” said Stein.
Cy Young perfect, in fact.
Although just one of several kids to pitch a perfect game at Dreams Park — Dustin Scott Tyksen of the Utah County Stixx did so in 2000 — Stein did it on a holiday, lending a festive mood to the event. Talbot has returned paperwork on her son's game to the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame.
Since the park opened in 1996, children of players such as Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens have attended the tournament. The Salt Lake Sidewinders, who won the weekly Cooperstown tournament a few days after Stein’s team played, are the Horns’ chief rival. Stein struck out 14 Sidewinders in a six-inning game in 2010.
He said the reality of a perfect game didn’t fully sink in until teammates began piling on him. But the fact he had his best stuff dawned much sooner.
“I usually know from the first pitch what I’ll be like,” he said.
Nevertheless, he wants to be an outfielder in the big leagues, so he can play every day and bat regularly, same as his idol Bryce Harper. Asked if he can see himself enshrined in Cooperstown in a few decades, he said, “I feel confident. I hope I make my goal of doing that. We’ll see.”
Even as a kid doing newspaper interviews, he was throwing strikes.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged
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