Dennis Eckersley, the onetime closer and now TV color commentator for the Boston Red Sox, once said, “I can’t recall too much about pitching, but I was anxious to get it over with.”

I, on the other hand, remember every agonizing second of my brief career on the pitcher’s mound. And like Eckersley, I wanted only for it to end.

It lasted all of one-half inning.

Memories of my long-ago trauma were tweaked this week with the news that all over Maine, high schoolers are scraping off the winter rust in anticipation of the start of baseball season on April 12.

Pitchers, who began throwing this week, will face a new set of rules this year: Per order of the Maine Principals’ Association, they face a limit of 110 pitches per game. Also, should they throw more than 95 pitches in one outing, they must get four days of rest before taking the mound again.

All of which got me thinking: Nowhere in team sports is there a position so lonely as that of the pitcher.

Throw well and you’re the hero.

Throw poorly and you’re the goat.

Throw somewhere in between and you’re at best a glutton for punishment, not to mention a candidate for psychotherapy.

It happened 50 years ago this summer.

Having just turned 13, I was too old to play Little League that year.

But when I heard about a summer league being formed for kids my age and slightly older, I jumped at the chance to reclaim my familiar – and often terrifying – corner at third base.

That is until the coach, whom I’d never met, saw me throw and asked, “Have you ever pitched?”

Yeah, right.

Me? … Pitch? …Was this guy crazy or what?

“Uhh … no,” I replied. “I play third.”

“Take the mound,” he said. “Let’s have a look.”

Fast forward to the first inning of our first game.

My Dad is among the smattering of fans on the hill behind our bench. Normally, he’s the one who gives me the thumbs-up and yells something mortifying like, “Go get ’em, Bill!”

But Dad’s strangely quiet on this day, just watching. His kid is … pitching?

For the first time ever, I take the mound. It’s all so unfamiliar: the beat-up rubber, the sticky rosin bag, the fact that everyone, on and off the field, is suddenly focused exclusively on me …

I wind up, feeling clumsy. I let the first pitch fly, thinking all the while, “Am I doing this right? … Do I look stupid? … Where’s it going to go?”

Ball one.

Again, I go through the unfamiliar motion. “Geez, that strike zone looks so tiny from up here,” I think midway through the wind-up.

And then, as I release the ball, “Dear God, please don’t let it hit him!”

Ball two.

Balls three and four come in rapid succession.

Same for the next batter – four balls in a row, and suddenly there are runners on first and second and no outs.

Same for the batter after that – and now the bases are loaded.

My teammates, full of chatter just a few minutes ago, have all gone silent.

I look to the bench, where my new coach halfheartedly claps his hands in encouragement. I see his hands come together, but I don’t hear any sound.

I look to the hill behind the bench. There sits my Dad, helplessly calm.

Did he just nod – or is he looking down because he can’t bear to make eye contact with his sudden failure of a son?

I want to run away, but I’m trapped by the simple reality that baseball, for better or worse, tends to frown on simply giving up. The ball weighs a ton. The next kid up to the plate looks more scared than I am.

And then, out of nowhere, I get angry.

“You want it? Here, take it!” I mutter, rearing back and throwing, eyes closed, as hard as I can. Only when I hear the “pop” in the catcher’s mitt do I look.

Strike one.

I’m still mad. I hurl it again, same way, without a thought for what I’m doing. If I kill the poor kid cowering at the plate, so be it.

Strike two.

I go on to strike out not just this batter, but the two who follow.

I walk off the mound to cheers, pats on the back from my teammates, a thumbs-up from my Dad. Yet I make a beeline for my coach.

“I’m begging you, please don’t make me go back out there,” I implore him. “I’m not a pitcher. I play third. Please!”

Coach relents. My pitching career – three walks, three K’s, no earned runs, a lifetime of nightmares about rosin bags – mercifully comes to an end.

These days, after the snow surrenders our soggy diamonds, I often pull over to catch a minute or three of a Little League or high school game in progress.

My eyes, like all eyes, go directly to the pitcher.

One kid, all by himself, with the outcome of the game literally in his hands.

Behind him, an entire team, poised not to act, but to react: A good pitch requires nothing of them. One bad pitch, however, and they must keep it from becoming a catastrophe.

And the batter, these days all swagger and Big Papi preparation, also waits. Go ahead, he tells the pitcher with his eyes, go ahead and try …

Bob Feller, a Cleveland Indians mound legend, once observed, “When you make a bad pitch and the hitter puts it out of the park and you cost your team the game, it’s a real test of your maturity to be able to stand in front of your locker 15 minutes later and admit it to the world. How many people in other professions would be willing to have their job performances evaluated that way, in front of millions, every afternoon at 5 o’clock?”

And so here’s to the pitchers – the good, the bad, those who command and those who collapse.

You truly are a different breed.

You work alone, even as you’re surrounded by others.

You stand atop a small hill, the better for the rest of us to watch you succeed or fail.

To do that well – heck, to do it at all – takes just a little bit of crazy.

That and a ton of courage.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]