Whether throwing strikes or sinking putts, pressure is pressure

What do you think is more difficult, having to throw a third strike past a Hall of Fame major league baseball player to end a game or having to sink a three-foot putt on the 18th hole to beat your opponent?

I asked East Marion resident and former major league pitcher Bill Hands just that. Was it harder for him to throw a third strike to seven-time all-star Willie Stargell to end a game or sink a three-foot putt to beat one of his regular playing partners, Dr. Bob Kroepel.

“One is as tough as the other,” was Bill’s tactful reply.

Pressure is pressure, right?

Bill and I recently had lunch and talked about his career and how playing baseball compares with playing golf.

Following a successful high school career in New Jersey, Bill was offered a $200 contract by the San Francisco Giants. “I held out for $250,” Bill said proudly. “My first year in the minors I learned to throw a slider. It took me a long time to learn to pitch down,” referring to keeping his pitches low in the strike zone.

After spending a few years in the minor leagues, Hands was brought up to the Giants in 1965. The following year he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he came into his own.

In 1969 the Mets and Cubs were matched in a classic pennant race, with Hands having a Sandy Koufax-type year, winning 20 games, posting a sparkling 2.49 earned run average, completing 18 games and pitching 300 innings. “I beat the Pirates for my 20th win,” Bill remembered.

After spending a few more productive years with the Cubs, Hands went on to play for the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers, retiring from baseball in 1975. Bill’s family had spent many years summering on the East End and moved permanently to the North Fork in the early 1980s. Having had experience in the fuel oil business, in 1987 Bill bought the Orient Service Station, which he operates today with his son.

Bill did not take up golf until after he retired from baseball and considers himself a competitive golfer. “You have to take golf seriously,” he said, “otherwise you’ll lose money.”

In comparing baseball to golf, Bill said, “After I pitched, I would replay in my mind the pitches I threw to each batter. In golf, I think about my shots after each round.”

“When I faced Willie Stargell I knew I couldn’t throw it past him, so I’d adjust my strategy,” he continued. “The same is true in golf. There are times when I know I don’t have a shot to the green and I’ll lay up.

“As a pitcher, I needed to know my capabilities, my strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for golf. And confidence is important in both sports. You need to have confidence to throw a strike. In golf you need to have confidence to hit a good shot and make a putt.”

One difference between baseball and golf for Bill is in his preparation. “I would pitch every four days and in between starts I would run and exercise. I’d also throw on the middle days. In golf, I show up a little before a match, hit a few balls on the range, take a few putts and off I go.”

Bill Hands is listed as one of the top 100 Chicago Cubs players of all-time and shares company with the likes of Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

Bill rooted for the New York Giants as a youngster. “I now root for the Cubs, but they’re hard to root for,” he said. “I’m a baseball fan and like to watch a good ballgame.”

QUICK TIP PGA star Y.E. Yang, winner of the 2009 PGA Championship, has got my vote on this one. The longest iron Yang carries in his bag is his 6 iron. Absent are the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 irons. Instead, he carries two fairway woods and three hybrids. Even with today’s technology, the long irons are so darn hard to hit. Make the switch to hybrids and watch your scores improve.

TEE TIMES Congratulations go to Sean Murphy, who had a hole-in-one on the sixth hole at Cherry Creek Golf Links and to Scoot Schelp who aced the second hole, also at Cherry Creek.

19TH HOLE “Golf is the only sport where the most feared opponent is yourself.” –Anonymous