For the first time, Ray Caldwell dons a Cleveland uniform. The weather is scorching hot but clear for the time being, and none of the 20,000 or so fans at League Park have any idea what they’re about to witness. Caldwell will tell a narrative of desperation, terror, survival, and redemption over the following two hours.
Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game, has an unbelievable story to tell.
As he enters the mound, the audience erupts in applause, and the applause grows louder as it becomes clear that Caldwell is at his best today. The stakes for the right-hander are well-known among Cleveland fans: The Red Sox had just waived him, and the pulse of his once-promising career had all but stopped before that day. This is his final breath. He’d been considered as a transcendent talent five years prior, arguably one of the best pitchers of all time, before drinking issues pushed him to the fringes of baseball. In a bid to make the playoffs, Cleveland player/manager Tris Speaker wanted to give Caldwell another shot, which looks like a brilliant choice this afternoon. Caldwell’s 6-foot-2, 190-pound body has earned him the nickname “Slim” because of the way he uses every ounce of it to generate an above-average fastball and outstanding curve. But he largely relies on his devastating out pitch, which is one of the best spitballs in baseball.
The pitch is still legal, and Caldwell has excellent command against the Philadelphia Athletics on this particular day; the A’s are stranded for two hours, managing only four singles and a walk in eight innings. But then, off Lake Erie, the clouds roll in quickly. Cleveland’s players, who have become accustomed to the lake-effect weather mood swings, take their positions in the hopes of getting three more outs before the heavens open up completely. As the rain picks up, he hurriedly toes the rubber. To start the inning, he gets two simple infield popouts. There’s one more to go. The wind is howling now, and the storm has descended onto the field. A flare from the sky smashes down into the middle of the field just as he gets set.
Ray Chapman, the shortstop, feels a charge of electricity run down his leg, and the force of the lightning prompts players to dive for cover. Cleveland catcher Steve O’Neill later says of his metal mask, “I ripped it off and tossed it as far as I could.” “I didn’t want any bolts to be drawn to me.” Everyone glances around five seconds after the bolt hits the ground. The position players for the Indians are all OK, but their newest colleague is not. Caldwell is flat on his back on the mound, arms splayed wide. The bolt of lightning had struck him square in the face. Players rush to Caldwell, but the first to touch him leaps into the air, claiming to have been electrocuted by Caldwell’s prone body. As a result, everyone takes a step back and just looks. Caldwell’s chest is smoking from the burn caused by the bolt. Nobody dares to touch him because they’re afraid.
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