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One nice summer day in Fort Myers, Florida a group of kids were picking teams for the daily pick up baseball game.
“Al picks George, what about me?”
“Jose picks pick Freddy, I am standing right here.”
“Al picks Jorge, can’t they seem me?”
“PLEASE pick me.” I, ten year old Timmy Berger mumble under my breath as I wait to be chosen. “PLEASE don’t pick me last!”
“Awww I’m stuck with Timmy again”, moans Jose.
“Picked last again”, I mumble.
The game starts and the home team takes the field. It doesn’t take long until I make yet another error, my eighth in three straight games. The ball took a bad hop. What was I to do? Throughout the whole game I could not help eyeing the kid behind the fence in the outfield with his crisp white Fort Myers Marlins jersey watching us. After that the game ends, the teams shake hands and prepare to go home.
As I leave the field I look out behind the outfield fence but the kid wasn’t there. He had already left. I start to trudge the five short blocks to my house. It seems like eternity. If I keep making mistakes I am going to always be picked last. Right before I reach my driveway I hear the clang of ball being perfectly hit by a metal baseball bat. Instinctively I turn staring at the perfectly trimmed Fort Myers Marlins baseball field. The Fort Myers Marlin baseball league, they have the BEST teams in the city. Who hit that ball? I turn to look and who do I see? None other than the kid I saw looking at us from the outfield. He is hitting the ball beautifully. He hits almost as good as David Ortiz, my all time favorite player. I am snapped back into reality as my mom calls me from the kitchen. Sadly I turn around and walk into the house.
After dinner I go outside and practice hitting off the tee. I must have swung the bat a 100 times and I hit the ball alot. Why can’t I do this in a game? Later that night I watch the baseball game on T.V. Before I go to bed in my baseball themed room, with posters of all my favorite players, I read for the 100th time The Big Field by Mike Lupica. I’m a baseballoholic. Baseball even invades my dreams. I have a great dream that night that I don’t get picked last AND I hit a grand slam. The team cheers me on. What a great dream.
I wake up early and get dressed. I take another 100 swings on the tee and then sprint to the lot. Sides are picked and as usual I’m picked last. The game gets underway. Everything went surprisingly well until the last inning when I come up to bat. We are down one with two outs and guys on second and third. I haven’t had a hit yet but I can feel it in my bones. I could be the hero or the goat. Please let me be the hero! I spit into my batting gloves just like the David Ortiz, rub my hands and step into the lefty batters box and get into my David Ortiz stance. Naturally I take the first pitch.
I step out of the box and scan the field when something catches my eye. It is the Fort Myers Marlins kid. Not wanting to disappoint him I step back into the batters box and prepare for the next pitch. The pitcher winds up and fires a fast ball. I swing.
Okay, I need to hit the next pitch or else I will always be picked last. PLEASE let me hit the ball, PLEASE. The pitcher sneers and kicks his leg up high. He turns and fires another fastball. I close my eyes and swing.
I hear shouts of joy. I HIT IT! I HIT IT! I open my eyes and look around. “Where is the ball?”, I mutter. Then it hits me. I slowly turn around and in the catcher’s glove I spy the pure white baseball.
I lost the game for the team AGAIN! Timmy Berger, team GOAT! I look into the outfield and the kid is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he missed the play, hopefully he did. I pack up my stuff and start to slowly walk home. As I am about to turn into my driveway I feel a light tap on my shoulder. I turn around. To my surprise it’s the kid in the crisp white Fort Myers Marlins shirt. He has a smile on his face.
“What?” I groan.
“Hello, I am Mike Burns. I saw you play today and you looked like a kid who loves the game. You have a great sense of what to do, so if you want I could try and help you tighten up the loose ends and become a better ballplayer.”
My day just changed. I was speechless. MIKE BURNS, I thought he looked familiar. Mike Burns, the high school player everyone is talking about. This was like having a college professor do your homework for you. WOW, Mike Burns wants to help me! I am at a loss for words. All I can do is shake my head.
“Great what do you say we meet tomorrow at the field across the street and we can practice before your game?”
“Cool, I’ll see you tomorrow.” I say.
“See you.” he exclaims and then turns around and walks away.
I turn and sprint into the house. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I do my usual 100 hits on the tee, I throw in a few sit ups and push ups, check the score of the games and hit the sack. Tomorrow is a big day!
Next thing I know its morning. I get dressed and drink a glass of orange juice, shove down a breakfast bar and fly out the door. I arrive at the field and surprisingly Mike is already there. It wasn’t a dream! I am excited to start. We work on fielding. He shows me how to hold my glove and how to field a ground ball so when it takes a hop it doesn’t get away. After that we do ground balls and I am making progress. I can even field some of them and throw them back to Mike with ease. Soon I start getting better but now I have to leave to meet the guys at the other field. Its time for our usual game.
Of course, I am picked last but I don’t care because Mike Burns is helping me. Mike watches the game from the outfield and we walk back to the Fort Myers Marlin field.
“Wow, Timmy you have really improved. You are doing great.” Mike says.
“I can’t believe that I am finally getting it.” I exclaim, smiling from ear to ear.
“Do you want to practice some more?”, Mike asks.
“YES”, I say.
I am exhausted but this is great. We start to do pop flies which are pretty much the same thing as ground balls. But the hard part is getting under the ball. I need a lot more work on these. We focused on catching pop flies until it got dark. We decided to call it quits for the day and meet again tomorrow, same time, same place.
I could not wait until tomorrow. I did not realize how tired I was until I arrived home. I collapsed on the couch and fell asleep. The next thing I know it was morning. I got dressed, ate, and sprinted across the street to the field. Again like last time, Mike beat me there. We spent the morning fielding. Surprisingly I only missed a few grounders and pop ups. I was really improving and Mike thought so to.
Another day, another pick up game, and another last pick. Not many balls were being hit to me in the outfield so I could not show off my new skills but I knew I could do it if a ball ever came my way.
After the game, Mike and I walked back to the other field and continued working on fielding. What a great day.
The days flew by and I was really getting better. Finally Mike said I had mastered pop ups and ground balls and now it was time to focus on my hitting.
He showed my how to stand, where to put my feet, how to hold the bat and how to swing the bat. I missed the ball a lot but things felt different. I knew I was going to be able to hit that ball. We worked and worked and worked and finally one day I swung, turn my hips and CRACK. I hit a hard ground ball right at Mike. The next pitch I hit a pop up but I am still making contact. We continue batting practice and I continue hitting baseballs. I am now hitting more balls than I am missing. I am having a lot of fun. We are having a lot of fun.
I can’t wait for tomorrow’s game. We haven’t had a pick up game in two weeks. Too many kids went to sleep away camp or away on family vacation. I can’t wait to show off my new skills.
I get up early as usual and meet Mike at the field. We get in two hours of practice before the game. The teams are picked and I am last again. But I don’t mind. They don’t know. The game finally starts. I see Mike in his usual spot as I trot out to right field. He tips his baseball cap at me, a sign of respect. COOL.
The pitcher winds up and fires a fastball. Crack, a high shot sails in my direction. Two months ago I would have been intimidated by this but Timmy Berger has changed. I sprint under the ball and catch it with ease. “Lucky catch,” mumbles the batter as he trots back to his dugout. The next two batters get out. The game is silent until the top of the sixth inning. The score was 0-0. The first batter came up and swung at the first pitch a screaming line drive about five paces to the left of where I stood. I sprint and dive at the last moment. SMACK. The sound of ball hitting leather was beautiful. I stand up and slowly brush myself off. I then whip the ball to the second basemen. I look around half of the people there have their mouths open. “It was just a catch,” I say modestly. My heart is pounding. I caught that BALL! A few kids wipe their eyes and go back to their position. The pitcher, sadly gives up a home run, but retires the next two batters. Its now 1-0, them!
We come up down one. I was up fifth that inning hoping to bat since I walked twice. Four batters later I stroll to the plate finding myself in the same situation I was earlier in the summer. Men on second and third with two outs and we are down one. I look into the outfield and I see Mike giving me a thumbs up. I get into my stance and prepare for the first pitch.
I step out of the box, spit into the dirt and dig in. The pitcher smiles, winds up and throws another fastball. I swing turning my hips but don’t get good contact and foul the ball off.
I hear a few kids moan. I am not about to let the kids on my team down. I dig in and get ready. Either the hero or a goat, which do I choose? I choose the hero! The pitcher kicks his leg up high and fires then everything goes into slow motion. The ball makes its way to the plate. Remembering everything Mike taught me I swing, rotating my body and then.
I am snapped out of the moment and see the ball flying towards the right center field gap. It lands and rolls to the fence. Both runners score and as I round first I am mobbed by my team. For once I wasn’t the goat but instead the hero.
The next day in Ft Myers Florida was a day to remember as Timmy Berger for the first time in his life was not picked last. All his hard work paid off. His motto now is Never Give Up, or is it Practice Makes Perfect?