Mark DiFelice couldn't feel the sacred baseball grass he was walking over. It was like being whisked to a fantasyland, the feeling was so surreal as he walked to the pitcher's mound at Fenway Park last Sunday. The 31-year-old righthanded rookie had to catch his breath a few times when Brewers catcher Jason Kendall made a suggestion: Take a look around, take a breath - and start pitching.
That's what they both did, looked around, before Kendall gave him a pat and DiFelice threw his first Major League pitch, a dream 10 years, a few hardships and plenty of devotion in the making.
The 1994 Haverford High graduate played 11 seasons in the minor leagues and in Mexico. He was called up by the Brewers from the Nashville Sounds, Milwaukee's AAA team, last Thursday.
It wasn't the most auspicious debut. DiFelice came in in the fifth inning and gave up five hits, including a double to Boston's Dustin Pedroia and a homer into the Brewers' bullpen by David Ortiz. He left the mound with a 27.00 ERA.
But that didn't matter. What did was having the chance he's wanted since he first picked up a baseball, a chance to play in the majors.
"The adrenaline rush was so great, it was like jumping out of an airplane, and it's something I never did before," DiFelice recalled. "I was shocked to throw strikes as well as I did. I couldn't even feel my body. Looking at it, it wasn't a great outing by any means, but to have my debut in Boston, at Fenway Park against the greatest team in the world, I couldn't have asked for more."
DiFelice had a large contingent of family and friends join him in Boston. He received over 100 text and e-mail messages, from high school teammates to players he played with in the minors.
It was the end of a long journey that DiFelice hopes continues, after recovering from shoulder surgery in 2001 to repair a right torn labrum and then knee surgery last December.
Along the way, the road was filled with plenty of doubt.
"I just couldn't give up," DiFelice said. "It was always something, a numbers game with one team, another team using me as an extra body. It's kind of unbelievable what I went through to get here. And believe me, when I threw that first pitch, there were a lot of people with me. My 4-year-old daughter, Mia, my parents, my brothers, my coach at Haverford Paul Bogosian, everyone and anyone who's ever supported me was with me."
Now DiFelice has an obligation to uphold - staying with the Brewers, a young team learning to win, in need of bullpen stability. DiFelice is hoping to provide some in a long-relief role.
"Now everything is up to me," DiFelice said. "The first outing was a gimme, my pro debut, which the team won't read into too much. But I have to produce to stay up here. [Brewers manager] Ned Yost likes the fact that I can throw strikes. I threw 30 pitches in my debut and 25 were for strikes, which kind of amazed me, because I was so charged up. It was like I had double division. But now, finally, I'm in the right place at the right time. It's finally happened for me." *
E-mail Joseph Santoliquito at email@example.com.