He wasn’t the biggest kid on the field. He wasn’t the strongest.
But Tom Glavine had a presence about him as a teen. It was the way he carried himself. Not cocky. Just sure of himself. Very sure.
I pitched against Glavine and his Billerica teammates as a member of the Lowell American Legion team in the summer of 1983.
Glavine will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday because of his pitching skills. One of the greatest left-handers in baseball history, he won 305 games thanks to razor-sharp control and a quiet toughness Billerica residents can relate to.
Young Tom wasn’t a joy to bat against. No, you approached the plate with a certain defeatist attitude.
It wasn’t only the power behind his pitches -- he probably topped out at 85-88 miles per hour in those days.
It’s the way he could paint the corners.
Long before he would become the greatest baseball player Massachusetts has ever produced (no, that’s not debatable), Glavine was far from just a pitcher who would soon be drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the 1984 draft.
He was the best high school hitter I had ever faced. I remember getting two strikes on him a couple of times. Standing 60 feet and 6 inches away from him, a not-so-funny thing transpired.
I knew I wasn’t going to get him out. And he seemed to know he wasn’t in any danger of being retired.
He had an air of confidence about him in the batter’s box and on the mound that separates the good players from the greats.
The time I pitched against him was early in the season. It was a Sunday morning, at Billerica High, and it was a raw, nasty day. There were probably 25 people watching the game, including a pro scout who planted himself behind the plate.
A light rain was falling and gripping the baseball was nearly impossible. I pitched about as well as I could for Post 87 of Lowell. We had a quality team, but Billerica was loaded.
We lost that morning; I’d say it was 4-0. It should have been just another game, but it wasn’t ... thanks to the poised lefty on the Billerica mound.
He set us down in order in the first, then in the second, then in the third. He was throwing pills past us and there was little we could do.
Glavine carried a no-hitter and perfect game into the sixth inning. I remember, as one of our batters came to the plate, a Billerica fan yelled something I’ll never forget: "Hey, Tom. If you get a no-hitter, I’ll buy you a case of beer."
He laughed. We laughed. Then he kept mowing us down. Maybe he was thirsty. Maybe he was just plain better than us.
But when he tossed the final pitch in the seventh inning, his teammates rushed out to celebrate. He had thrown a no-hitter and perfect game. Not allowing a walk in those conditions was incredible.
For him, it was just another game. For me, a student at St. Joseph’s Regional High School in Lowell, where the entire student body could have fit in a stretch limo, it was a chance to compete against the Merrimack Valley’s best.
(I’m not sure I got Glavine out that day. He either went 3-for-4 or 4-for-4 with a couple of solid line drives).
Leaving the field, I saw the scout packing up his equipment next to his car.
Deciding to have a little fun and get a laugh out of one of my teammates, I walked up to him.
"Hey, what did you think of the Scanlon kid?" I asked.
Caught off guard, the scout, who said he was with the Milwaukee Brewers, apologized.
"Um, actually I was here to see the Glavine kid," he said apologetically.
He closed his trunk. I walked away smiling. (We played a second time against Billerica, in Lowell, later in the season, but that Sunday morning game was more memorable).
I didn’t know I was facing a future Hall of Famer that raw, wet morning in Billerica.
Life doesn’t work that way. Had I known, I would have taken pictures, gotten an autograph, and chronicled the event.
I didn’t know he would go on to make 10 All-Star teams, become a World Series champion, earn a World Series MVP award, and capture two National League Cy Young awards.
I didn’t know he was taking his first steps on his journey to Cooperstown, N.Y.
But I knew I was in the presence of greatness.