For most of the fourth inning, Ian Anderson sat on a bench behind the pitching mounds in the Shenendehowa bullpen. He ate a sandwich, hung out with senior teammates Lucian Williams and Michael Gillooley, and chatted with his father as he watched the Plainsmen score a couple runs in what became an 8-6 win Friday against Columbia.
At inning’s end, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Anderson headed into his team’s dugout. That’s where he had spent his season so far, unable to pitch in any of his team’s first dozen games. Projected as a first-round pick in this June’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, a bout with pneumonia initially stopped him this season from displaying his mid-90s fastball. Once recovered from that, the senior suffered a slight strain of his left external oblique muscle while warming up for an April 13 game, an injury that limited him the next couple weeks to shagging foul balls and giving high-fives to teammates.
Friday, though, his return to the dugout was temporary. His black Rawlings glove retrieved, Anderson re-emerged, tossed the glove to the ground, and started yanking on the ropes attached to the back of the Shenendehowa dugout.
He smiled as he started to stretch out. Significant pain in his side had been gone for a week, and his recent throwing sessions had gone well. He gritted his teeth as he pulled on the ropes a little harder, then laughed.
“G,” he called out to Gillooley, nearby in the Plainsmen’s bullpen. “I just broke another one.”
That was the last setback for Anderson. Ten minutes later, he was atop one of the bullpen mounds, hurling pitches to junior catcher Kyle Douglas. A few easy ones to start, then the real stuff.
The pops coming from Douglas’ glove attracted the attention. The TV news cameras were already trained on Anderson by the time a couple professional baseball scouts and a bunch of little kids joined the scene, the action on the field forgotten.
“I’d catch the ball and look around me,” Douglas said. “There were cameras everywhere. At that point, I realized this was a big thing.”
Shenendehowa pitching coach Keith Lansley mostly left Anderson alone as he warmed up throughout the fifth and sixth innings, only giving an occasional glance to make sure the pitcher wasn’t wincing or favoring his left side. Gillooley, set to catch Anderson in his seventh-inning debut, paid closer attention.
“I needed to make sure he had his control,” said Gillooley, laughing. “When it’s coming 95 at you from him, you need to be ready for everything. I was just hoping he was hitting his spots.”
The attention didn’t bother Anderson. His adrenaline was pumping, but he stayed cool even when Shenendehowa temporarily lost its lead.
“If this [game] is tied going into the bottom of the seventh, I’m going to have to hit,” he joked.
But the Plainsmen were up two runs when the final inning came around. With “Enter Sandman” playing, Anderson ran onto the field and was atop the mound before any of his teammates were at their positions.
Chris Dedrick, Columbia’s head coach, had entered the game thinking there was a chance Anderson might pitch. Still, he took a few seconds to take stock of the sight of the pitcher on the mound before heading for the third-base coaching box.
“Well,” he said to himself. “Oh, boy.”
As his team’s first batter, Justin Luther, stepped to the plate, Dedrick tried to make the coming at-bat seem like a normal one.
“Hey, there,” Dedrick shouted to Luther. “Foot down, line drive.”
Anderson’s first pitch, a fastball, whizzed into Gillooley’s glove for strike one.
“Sheesh,” Dedrick muttered.
Sixteen pitches later, the inning and game was complete. Anderson struck out two in an imperfect debut, allowing both a hit and a walk but no runs. He left out his curveball, working only with fastballs and changeups. Lansley estimated Anderson was throwing around 90 for most of his outing.
“But he popped a couple,” Lansley said of Anderson, a Vanderbilt University recruit who had last seen official game action this past summer when he helped USA Baseball win an 18U world title in Japan.
Barring any setbacks this weekend, Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said Anderson will start Monday’s game at Colonie. If Anderson makes that start, he’ll likely be able to make two starts before the Section II Class AA postseason arrives.
“It’s a green light the whole way if he says he feels good,” Christodulu said.
Which, he did.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better result,” Anderson said.
After picking up the save, Anderson headed back to his team’s bullpen to throw a couple dozen more pitches to continue building back his stamina. He joked with Gillooley between his cool-down pitches, the crowd around him reduced to his coaches and parents. When twin brother Ben Anderson walked within shouting distance, Ian Anderson hollered.
“Benny,” he called out. “Chipotle?”
“As long as you’re paying,” came the reply.
Anderson pumped in another fastball in agreement. A few pitches later, he was set to go.
“Nothing’s bothering me right now,” Anderson said, flashing a big grin.