The Glory Game

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I sat in the garage, knotting the laces on my right cleat, beginning to get my mind into baseball mode, running plays through it, trying to force everything else out of it. I tied the right one and moved on to the left one, then got up and began to wander around, wondering where I would be playing that night. I heard the door creak, and the garage door opened, causing the walls flanking it to shake. I turned around, saw my mom exit the house, and climbed into the back seat of the car. My mother drove down the street to Kellen’s house. I got out of the car and quickly strode to his front door and rang the doorbell. I stood on his porch for several minutes, before deciding to go back and wait in the car. No sooner had I climbed back into the car than when Kellen ran out of the house, carrying several articles, among them the pants I realized he was not wearing. He sat in the car opposite me, frantically pulling his pants over his legs, and my mom again began to drive. As the car turned to the West, the view of the sun setting over the mountains nearly blinded us with its brilliant orange-red glow. We reached an intersection, and mom steered the car to the right, Kellen and I shouted in unison, “The field is that way!” and pointed in the opposite direction. We drove a couple hundred feet before my mom turned the car around and we started heading in the correct direction.

Kellen and I jumped out of the car and grabbed our bags, my mom barely giving us enough time to escape before she sped out of the parking lot. We hauled our equipment down a short, steep slope to the first base dugout where we dropped it. The umpire was the only other person there and I said “Hi” to him as I picked up one of my gloves and jogged out of the dugout and onto the cool, damp grass. I spent several moments in silence, thinking about how beautiful the evening was, the bright green grass on the outfield, freshly groomed sand in the infield, the sun setting over the mountains which seemed to be just beyond the right field fence. I took a deep breath before beginning to jog towards the 347 sign on the batter’s eye in center field. I reached the sign, placed both hands on it, and turned around and ran back to where I had dropped my glove.

I went through my stretching routine as Kellen ran out of the dugout. I began to walk towards the dugout to get a ball so we could play catch when I saw Coach Tom’s car pulling into the parking lot. Knowing he would need help carrying equipment, I ran up to greet him. Tom opened the back of his car and handed me three buckets of baseballs which I happily carried back down the hill to the dugout. I opened one of the buckets, selected a ball, and tossed it to Kellen.

As the rest of the team arrived, Coach called us over to the dugout where he had posted the lineup card for that evening. I found my name near the bottom, where the players on the bench were listed. I tossed my glove back into my bag and took a seat on the icy, rigid metal bench. I tried to get comfortable because I would be sitting there for most of the night.

The game began smoothly, Ben, our starting pitcher, struck out Lakewood’s first two hitters. But after the next eight hitters got on base, coach walked out to the mound to make a pitching change. Ben would go sit on the bench; Rocko, who was playing third base, would pitch; and Angelo would move from first to third base. With first base open, Coach sent me out to play. Rocko finished his warm-up pitches and toed the rubber, while I held the runner on first base. With my right foot resting against the side of the dusty square I faced Rocko, waiting patiently for him to look at me. Rocko glanced over at me and I touched the red bill of my cap, the sign for a pick move. Rocko came to his set, paused, then in one motion turned and threw the ball to me. I caught the ball and placed my glove between the diving runner and first base. As I stood I heard the umpire yell, “OUT!” and I ran to the dugout where I high-fived Rocko. We had given up five runs in the inning but I was happy that I had gotten the opportunity to play.

The bottom of the first inning passed, and Lakewood went down one-two-three in the top of the second. I was due up fourth in the bottom of the second, so I pulled my white batting gloves over my hands. When I walked up to the plate, we had runners on second and third with only one out. Using my right foot, I leveled the dirt in the batter’s box. I watched Coach give the signs, and stepped into the box, waving my bat back and forth below my waist as I waited for the pitcher to come set. I recognized my mom’s voice shouting, “Come on, Jacob!” and heard another say, “Let’s go one-four!” My brother and cousins were all shouting my name, their voices much higher in pitch than the rest of the crowd. I heard the voices but did not acknowledge them; I was focused on getting a hit. The bat moved smoothly above my right shoulder as the pitcher began his delivery. I saw the ball approaching, a curveball, low and away. I took the pitch, not wanting to hit a curveball in a new count. The next pitch was in the same place, and I took it as well. I now had two strikes on me, and knew if I saw the same pitch again I’d have to hit it. I stepped out of the box, took a deep breath, then stepped back in between the lines of smeared white chalk. The pitcher fired another pitch, but this time up and away, I swung at it, and caught a glance of it flying into the right-center gap. Taking a wide turn around first base, I ran to second where I slid unnecessarily. Both runners scored and our deficit had been reduced to five to two.

We scored another run in the fourth inning, and the Lakewood Tigers’ offense that had been threatening to beat the crap out of us had disappeared. In the fifth inning, I got another at bat, this time with runners on first and second. At that point, the sun had gone down completely, and the giant bulbs high above the field were shining down, making the field an oasis of light in the darkness of the space surrounding it. The Tigers had changed pitchers since my previous at bat, and the current pitcher was a lefty. I was fairly unfamiliar with hitting against lefties because such a small percentage of the population is left handed. With one out and a runner on first, I stood in the on deck circle. I watched the pitcher, his violent high leg kick, and his quick delivery. I took note of the frequency with which he threw his curveball. I took a few practice swings, then heard the pronounced “Ping!” of an aluminum bat striking a ball and walked up to the plate as Jack, the tying run, ran to first base. Again I heard people shouting my name, or , “Let’s go fourteen!” I smoothed the dirt in the batter’s box with my right foot, stepped away from the box, pulled my white and black batting gloves more tightly on to my hands, tried to fasten the loose straps ,even though I knew they wouldn’t stay, and finally stepped back into the box. The lefty served me a fastball, the first one I had seen all night, and I wasn’t ready for it. I watched it go by. Strike one. The next pitch was a good curveball, but just off the outside corner for a ball. I stepped out, took a deep breath, and stepped back into the box before the pitcher threw me another curveball, one that broke down and in for strike two. Again I stepped out of the box, and thought, “I’ve only seen one fastball all night, so I’ll try to sit on a curveball, and foul off a fastball.” I wasn’t worried, I had been a good two strike hitter all year. I watched Coach Tom giving signs, and I moved my feet back into the box. I lined up my left foot with the corner of the plate, turned my right foot in a little bit, and tapped the far corner with the end of the bat I had been using and trusting since I was eight. Jack’s voice hit my ears, saying, “Come on Jacob, drive us in!” The pitcher lifted his knee up to his chest, and I began to rock back in rhythm with him. I saw the spin of the ball, another curveball, as I planted my left foot and prepared to swing. The pitch was a hanger and seemed to crawl towards the plate. I knew I was going to swing before the pitch was thrown, and swing I did. I heard the bat hit the small, 5 ounce ball, but I didn’t feel it, it was such a smooth swing. The absence of the usual vibrating of the bat was a pleasant surprise as it didn’t hurt my hands at all. I let the bat fall from my hands as I sprinted to first base, seeing the ball floating into the night sky. I saw a small white object bouncing in the right field corner as I turned towards second base, and I kept running. I reached second, touched the right corner of it with my toe, and continued to run as I saw Coach Tom waving his arms wildly, signaling for me to continue to third. I slid as I neared the base, kicking fine dust into the air that stung my eyes and settled on my black jersey. I stood and dusted myself off, and grinning from ear to ear, glanced up at Coach who was offering me a fist bump. I accepted the offer, knowing I had just tied the game. I caught my breath, and realized that this had been one of the best night’s of my life, and it still wasn’t over. Unfortunately, I did not score and the game went into extra innings.

Everyone in the dugout was nervous as the bottom of the sixth inning started, it was not particularly cold but we were all shivering. Had there been anymore tension inside the chain-link structure, the wire fences would have been snapping. We all wandered amongst each other, cheering when Kellen and Matt both got on base. Nick was hitting, and I was standing near the gate to the dugout, clutching my own arms in a feeble attempt to ease my nervousness. Everyone in the dugout was quiet, the cool night air seeming still for the first time that night. As the pitcher prepared to pitch, I decided I was too nervous to watch and directed my attention to the orange-clad second baseman for no particular reason. Only a fraction of a second later, the ball rolled past the second baseman, into right field. I knew Kellen would score from second base and without even thinking sprinted to first base to greet Nick who had just won the game. One thought repeated itself in my mind over and over. “We won! Now we’re first in the division!” The whole team was trying to hug Nick, we were a screaming mass of black jerseys and red letters. After about 30 seconds our celebration was ended by Coach shouting, “Calm down, you didn’t win the World Series!” I knew he was happy too, even though he had pretty much just rained on our very disorganized parade.

As we were packing up our gloves and sliding our bats into our dusty, worn bags, we continued to high five each other and converse about how much fun the game had been and how incredible it felt to be in first place. Finally, we knew we had to leave while the lights were still on so we said good bye to one another and climbed into our respective cars. I threw my stuff into the back of my mom’s red SUV then climbed back into the same seat I had occupied nearly four hours earlier, still shivering. It was partly because of the cool, beige leather seat, partly because of the adrenaline, and partly because some of the nervousness had resided in me, but the shivering persisted. My brother and cousins climbed into the car with me and told me that I played a great game. I barely spoke on the way home, as we drove under the dull yellow streetlights, I just thought. I felt like that night had belonged to me, and I had completely abandoned my original disappointment from not being in the starting lineup. Suddenly, I was sad that the game had ended. Realizing that it was over was like waking up from an incredible dream, I never wanted it to end. I wished I could have stayed at the field forever. I valued the moments from that game even more because I knew I was not even supposed to take part in it. I had been blessed with a chance and I had helped my team win what we all knew was a pivotal game.





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