Glory Days This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 10, 2010
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Two outs. Bottom of the 9th. Bases loaded.
In my small town of Western Springs, Illinois, little league baseball is a religion. From April to July moms, dads, and kids make their daily pilgrimage to Spring Rock Park for practices and games. Everyone takes off work and puts aside homework to watch the games that are – obviously – more important. As every boy in the town is required to do, I joined a tee-ball team at age 5.
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I was one hell of a tee-ball player. I’m pretty sure in my first season I hit a home run every game while the other kids frolicked around in the field picking grass or waving their gloves to shoo away gnats.
However, my entire baseball career took a turn for the worse when kids began to pitch. Standing trembling at the plate, wishing I was anywhere else, waiting for the oncoming missile of a baseball to hit my back leaving a huge greenish-brown mark.

By the time I was 10 years old my role in the baseball world had been pretty well established. I was a member of the Cubs, a team of misfits and nerds coached by my dad and a couple of friends’ dads. We were there to have fun and, honestly, tried not to care if we won or lost. But after losing our first 8 games that season we realized being beat by our classmates wasn’t the most enjoyable experience.
Especially when you had to hear about how much you sucked for the next few weeks at school.
One day while sitting around eating our post-game snacks (thanks to Mrs. Potthoff, our 3rd baseman’s mom) after yet another loss, we were fed up. This time was worse than any loss before because it was to our archrivals, the Cardinals coached by Mr. Skertich.
Since the beginning a Skertich-Helding rivalry had existed. We all believed that that game should have been the defining moment of our season, our chance to shine and show them what’s up, but instead we blew it. The only way we could dream of winning back our dignity would be to make the playoffs and hope we were matched against them.
Nothing motivates a child like the fear of being ridiculed. Over the next two months we worked harder than any other group of 10 year-olds in town to improve our skills and win more games.
And we did.
Even though the turnaround wasn’t extraordinary like in those countless motivational sports movies, we developed into a respectable team finishing in the middle of the 12-team league. As the regular season finished up, our ragtag team basked in the glory of our more frequent wins.

It was Saturday, the day the playoff schedule was announced. Packed into my mom’s classic blue 1994 Chrysler Town & Country van, we drove to the park in relative silence awaiting our fate. After jumping out of the car and running to the field, our team stared at the clipboard posted on the fence. Our smiles slowly turned upside down.
“We need to get to the Championship to play those losers!” said Max, our starting 3rd baseman.
“No way in hell is that going to happen!” Kyle said. He was the ace pitcher.
“Boys, watch your language,” our mothers warned as their eyes glared down at us as if they were trying to see through our heads. “You guys never know, it’s possible.”
“Unlikely,” we all thought to ourselves.
We thought it was a miracle to just be in the playoffs; we never intended to try to win the whole thing. Now there were three games between us and the revenge we so fervently desired.
We approached the next few games as if we were at war suiting up in our bright blue uniforms and putting on matching blue eye black to intimidate the enemy. Our bats were hot and gloves solid in the field. Our game was the best it had ever been. For the group that lacked the will to win in the beginning, we had developed into an excellent baseball team.
And that is exactly what we were.

Friday. Game day.
This was no ordinary game for us; this was the biggest moment of our 10 years of existence. All our friends and family would be in the stands watching with the same intensity as if we were playing in the World Series. We had been dreaming of this day for the entire season; now we could not only redeem ourselves but we could also go down in the history books as league champions. As we took batting practice chanting the words to Queen’s classic sports anthem “We Will Rock You,” we knew it was our time to shine.

Right before the beginning of our game, Mr. Heiser, our assistant coach, gathered us around.

“Now way back before you guys were born, in 1980, there was a hockey game that changed the world. The USA, the underdogs, were going up against the best team in the world, the Soviets…”

As he told this story we sat quite confused, wondering what purpose his story had or what a Soviet even was. As his story flew straight over our heads, we realized that it must have something to do with beating those kids that we hated so much who were now sitting on the other bench.

“You guys are the US. They,” he concluded, “are the Soviets.” With this line we erupted into a cheer and took our positions.
The game did not go as we expected. The Cardinals were dominating, even though the score remained relatively close throughout the entire game. Finally it all came down to the last inning. We were down by three runs as we entered our last at bats, and then loaded the bases after starting with two strikeouts. The next batter would determine the game, and the entire season. Of course, that kid was me.

Two outs. Bottom of the 9th. Bases loaded.
The situation that every boy throughout America has dreamed of had become reality for me. As I walked up to the plate hands shaking nervously, I tried to steady myself by smiling.
I stood there staring down the pitcher trying to look intimidating (which was quite hard for my 10-year old self). He, unfased by my glare, slowly entered his windup and delivered.
First pitch, I hit it!
It’s going foul. Come on get out of play. Come on. Come on.
My heart sunk as the other bench cleared, running out to celebrate on the pitcher’s mound, lifting up the kid who made the catch as a hero.
“Why? Why me? Why did we come so far if we were just going to be embarrassed once again?” I walked back to the dugout dragging my bat on the ground. I could have been the hero. I could have saved the game. I could have saved the season.
As I walked off the field, I was dreading facing my teammates, and, even worse, their parents and my classmates and friends in the stands.
“What’s my excuse? Took my eye off the ball? I definitely can’t say I was nervous…” I contemplated the many ways I could try and hide my shame.
But when I reached the dugout no one spoke: they clapped. Our entire side broke out in an overwhelming round of applause. It was not the end that mattered for my team, but what we had gotten through to get there. We knew we were the best team in the league no matter, even if they had a better record and had beaten us once again.
The next few days at school we had to deal with the loss, but it was not nearly as difficult anymore. As they laughed at our chants and face paint, we didn’t really care. We, as a team, had reached an unachievable goal; we had found victory in defeat.

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