“Men today you have the chance to do something that many people fantasize about, but only a few can ever experience. Out there today guys, play smart, do your job, and remember you are living a dream. Now take the field.” Hearing my coach, or “Skip” as we called him, say those words made me think of the love of this great game I found at such a young age.
As I ran out onto the field, it felt like running out there for the first time. Instantly I heard the announcer saying, “We welcome everyone here tonight as we get set to play game seven of the 2010 World Series.” The sound of 60,000 fans going wild all at once to cheer us onto the field was overwhelming. I felt my heart beating. Pride mixed with adrenaline. At that moment I could have jumped out of the stadium. The smell of the fresh cut grass brought my heart back to normal pace.
It reminds me of our yard at home where my father and I would play catch when I was a boy.
Once I get to my position in Center Field, I look around to make eye contact with my fellow teammates. I give them a nod, and they nod back. This lets each one of know without saying a word that we are going to be playing as one tonight with one common goal. I let my mind wonder for a brief moment then I hear the home plate umpire saying “Play Ball”. Our home crowd calms to let our pitcher settle in. Under the small roar I can hear my teammates telling the pitcher this is his night. I join in. “You the man tonight. Pitch your game and we will back you up.”
With each batter that comes up I have the same routine, according to the style of hitter they are. I get a little deeper. Then I want to play. When the pitcher starts his windup I start to inch in, creeping. On contact my first step is always back. Balls hit in front of me I can plant and run forward to get it, but if the ball is going over my head my first step back will help me be able to turn around and chase it down.
On the second pitch of the third batter in the first inning, I get a ball hit to me. With two outs and no one on base, my job is to catch the ball. I don’t have to worry about throwing it anywhere. Even though the hit is a routine play I feel anxious as I camp out under the pop-fly.
I start to raise my arms remembering that my dad always said “Use both hands, Son.”
When the ball hits the pocket of my glove I squeeze hard with both hands securing the out. With that being the third out I start to run back to the dugout, receiving and giving congrats for a strong first half of the inning.
Back in the dugout, the jitters are now gone. There is a game to win. My mind is now on business--we win and we are the champs. I am the fourth batter so I start to get ready for my turn at bat. I grab my batting helmet. Before putting it on I smell the sweat coming from the inside of the helmet. I am instantly taken back in time to my days of playing Little League. I get another burst of excitement. My love for this game has only grown since the days of playing for trophies and bragging rights. I get my bat next. “Old Faithful” -- I must have had a hundred of these bats, but I always get the same one. My hands cover the entire bat, sliding over the smooth wood, and again I am taken back to being twelve and playing on beat up fields, with hand me down uniforms, and the whole team using one bat. I haven’t used batting gloves for years.
My little league coach once asked, “Ben, if you can’t feel the bat how are you going to be one with the bat?” He had played minor league ball and was a man that I had a lot of respect for. I then hit two homeruns without batting gloves in my first game so I haven’t worn any since.
I was suddenly brought back to the game. Our leadoff hitter had just hit a double off the left field wall. I knew now in my mind that unless something unfortunate happened, I would be getting an at bat this inning. Waiting to get in the on deck circle I look out into the crowd. In a sea of faces I could always find my dad. His face is plump and round his hair curls up on the sides of his baseball cap that was always whatever team I was playing for. He would always be looking at me when I found him in the crowd. He would always smile and tell me I was The Man.
Today was no different I found his face in the crowd and he was looking right at me. He smiled, and said, “You’re The Man”.
Now in the on-deck circle, I must focus. I start to watch the pitcher. I am trying to get his timing. I try to find out if he tips any of his off-speed pitches. I watch every pitch to the batter in front of me to see what pitches and where he likes to locate them. During my practice swings I am not trying to loosen up as much as I am trying to get my swing in harmony with the rest of my body. I start this by half swinging until I find my groove, then I take a few full swings letting the swing settle my body, trying to stay as balanced as I can. Damn. The batter in front of me strikes out. Two outs, now a man on second base, and I start to walk to the plate.
Everything I do from the time the out is called is planned. I stare at the pitcher as I stride up to home plate. I say good day to the umpire and kick a little dirt on the catcher. With one foot in the batter’s box and one foot out, I stretch and try to focus on the task at hand. The moment that I feel balanced and comfortable, I dig in with my left foot and place my right foot about shoulder’s width apart and slightly in front of my right foot. I wipe the sweat from my brow and start to let the bat swing in my hands.
Once the pitcher looks at the runner back at second I stay loose, but I know to be prepared for the pitch to come. The pitcher lifts his leg, so I lift mine. When he strides I stride. I see the ball coming out of his hand. The stitches or seams on the ball are rotating end over end. It’s a fastball. In that split second I also notice that it is out of the strike zone. “Ball One” says the umpire.
Next pitch same thing he lifts, I lift. He strides, I stride. This time the seams are rotating side-to side. It’s a curve ball. The only thing is it doesn’t curve. My swing starts on the same plane as the ball. I stay balanced and twist my hips in front of my hands. The bat speeds to catch up to the twist of force I just put on my body. On contact I extend my arms, but I keep them contracted at the same time. My head stays down until my left shoulder makes it come up.
When you hit a baseball on the nose, you don’t even feel it. It just explodes off the bat and you know you hit it a long way. I see the ball traveling through the air heading for deep right field. I try to start running to first base, but it feels like I’m on a cloud. The ball reaches the right field stands as I start to round first base.
As I’m rounding the bases I hear the crowd cheering and chanting. I can’t feel anything it’s like when you know you are dreaming, but you hope it’s real anyway. I round third base and see all of my teammates crowding home plate. I inch closer and closer to them. I jump on home plate.
Just then, wham. “Mr. Edwards.” “Mr. Edwards.” I look up and say “yes. The nurse looks down at me and says, “Doctor Williams will see you now.”comments powered by Disqus