Quote of the Day:
Reading isn’t good for a ballplayer. Not good for his eyes. If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs. So I gave up reading. –Babe Ruth
The boy stood in the circle and stared out from the brim of his hat toward the small hill. He removed his helmet just long enough to flick sweat away from his brow. As he focused on timing the next offering from the mound, he suddenly felt the urge to pee. It wasn’t too pressing a matter, but part of his brain considered the problem of preventing a loosening while he would be otherwise mentally preoccupied in the box, even as he realized this recurring issue had never yet ended in humiliation. Most of his attention remained focused on the next pitch. A curveball. No help. He looked out once more at the alignment of the middle infielders and depth of the outfield, squinting against the harsh August afternoon sun, and visualized dropping one in the assorted holes. Ball four. Bases loaded. He was up. He felt the timeless fears creep up. Of getting out, of letting down his team, of embarrassment, that he might get hit. He shunted the negativity aside, in the process pushing his need to pee a little further to the edges of consciousness, and determined to bring in some runs. A home run would be nice, but he wasn’t greedy. “God just let me make good contact and if you wouldn’t mind, let one of them dudes boot it so we can get some runs. I promise I’ll be a good Christian from now on. Amen.”
The boy covered ten steps or so to the plate while scanning the field for any last-minute position changes. Although the odds were against it mattering, he judged the distance of the fences too, and what it would take to reach them. He reached the batter’s box and turned his back on the pitcher, kicking dirt off the plate in a flourish before shuffling to the back of the box. He planted his back foot dramatically on the chalk and twisted, in the process obliterating the neat line meant to signify the farthest point back one might stand. Then he slid his foot a couple of inches past where the white had lately, tidily met red dirt. Looking down the third base line he took a signal from the Coach and nodded in return assuredly, conspiratorially. The look was a bluff more intended for Coach than opponent. He hadn’t listened when they went over signals, too busy considering the momentous opportunity before him. Besides, it was almost always “hit away,” and he saw no reason it wouldn’t be this time. Mimicking the big-leaguers he refused to (completely) idolize only because he expected some day to be competing amongst them, the boy rhythmically tapped his cleats at the bottom of a 180 degree arc with his 32 ounce, partially flattened on one side of the sweet spot aluminum bat, one foot then the other to clear them of clay and then he finally dug in for the first pitch.
A strike, right down the middle. He wished he’d been able to time the fastball before standing at the plate. That was his pitch. But there was nothing to be done, and now he knew the fastball couldn’t get by him. If this cat could get the curve over he was in trouble, but another heater like that and he’d hit one of those outfield gaps. The curve ball came and he checked his swing, but didn’t go around. He thought it was a strike, but got the call. One and one. This guy was good. He forgot about the curve since he couldn’t do much but fight it off anyway. I’ll get another fastball, he was suddenly certain.
Time seemed to pause. It was almost imperceptible. But the instant the next pitch took flight he knew. When he thought back about the moment later he visualized himself with an atomic grin flashing only in the millisecond when time stood still. From joy to anger and back again every fiber in his body sprung. A fastball, low and on a line between the inner third of the plate and the middle. Seemingly of its own accord, the bat came round, the muscles danced as one from shoulders to hips to wrists, the eyes locked, the brain silent and the soul exultant. The boy got all of it. There was no doubt. He felt the confirming echo of perfection course through the metal and into his forearms. Without looking he sensed the catcher and umpire rise in admiration. In his mind flashing like the neon lights of a Vegas jackpot was a single word, “GONE.”
His legs knew, striding down the first base line at only three-quarter tempo. He lost sight of the ball after it cleared the fence and it was just as well because he had to look down quickly to find first base before he missed it. Realizing the first baseman had put his hand out in congratulation just in time he thrust his arm back to make contact and eased his pace back just a bit more. It was important to run out a home run at the proper speed–too fast made you look like a rookie, overly excited and even surprised at success; too slow and you showed up the pitcher and looked like an arrogant jerk. The boy preferred to err on the side of speed, but he wanted to get the pace just right. And not to smile. Which was hard when the shortstop was grinning at you and offering five. He’d learned it looked worse to suppress a smile than just to go on and grin for a second, so he gave him five and looked down to his shoes which always seemed to help him regain the cool. In route to third he felt a little guilty slapping hands with the next guy. Hell, he just looked away when the bad guys went deep. He didn’t mind being a good sport after the game, but now wasn’t the time. “Oh well, that’s their problem,” he thought.
So it was a relief when on rounding third he had only teammates to face. For the first time since commencing his stroke, his senses took note again of sound, cheering. He reveled in the borderline overenthusiastic back slap from his third base coach and then let all pretense of stoicism drop as he approached the mob of friends waiting at home plate. He hadn’t let them down. Relief began to mingle with joy. They tugged at his shirt and smacked his helmet and led him in triumph back to the dugout where a few minutes later a little kid would show up with his souvenir. If he hurried he could pee before it got there.
Thank you friends. It’s a little self indulgent, but allow me to explain…
A few days ago I had occasion to break into a trot and the memories of childhood glory shot through me. As MDM and others know much better than I, there is no feeling in the world that compares with the 20 seconds or so when you are circling the bases on a home run. I never scored TD’s, dunked, or scored a soccer goal, so maybe they compare, but I firmly believe those sporting accomplishments are a little below the HR. Anyway, I got to thinking how everyone should know what that feels like, and how I wish I could more vividly remember the details, so I started trying, and then I decided I’d try and write it down. Forgive me, I like it too, though I also, as usual, rue the lack of an editor to clean up the muddy spots.
The whole time I was reading I was wondering how old you were – I see you were days away from turning 13. I’m glad you did that against St. Martin – I hate going over there to watch the Allstars play. I should print this for my 11 year old nephew to read. Very nicely done TB – both on paper and on the field.
Yes, everyone should know that feeling! I once caught a football from what seemed far away to me on the PHS practice field and made a TD during a pickup football game – I felt triumphant. I was 14 and have never done anything like that again except during the baseball challenge with Wallace. I did ok for a girl!
Agreed! Every young child should be able to enjoy the experience of what it feels like to do something like that. It’s one of those “special moments” in a child’s life that doesn’t go away. I like the picture, still having the ball around stirs up those wonderful memories as well. I’ll double up on the nice job TB, I’ve been waiting for a good baseball story from you…….
Just what I need, an excuse to do more baseball stuff…. I’ll give it some thought. This time of year always gets me thinkin’ bout the good ‘ol days, ice water ammonia coolers, hershey bars between games under an oak tree, post game May’s Superburgers, victory laps……
My dad would take me to Pizza Hut after weekend ball games. It was an incredibly big deal since we were dirt poor at the time. A fact I didn’t appreciate until I was much older.
We are due a reunion to do some story telling about the old days.