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The Game Changer

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It was a warm Saturday morning as I lay in bed half awake, squinting as the sun glared through the blinds and onto my alarm clock. It was 6:57 a.m. and I knew I had only a few minutes before I would hear my dad come into my room to get me up. As I rolled over and stretched my arms and legs, I got a sudden rush of adrenaline shooting through my stomach. Today would be the biggest baseball game of my life – the do or die game against Lexington’s All Star team. I would be the starting pitcher against a team that was 13-1 during the regular season. I couldn’t tell if I was nervous or excited, but before I could evaluate my thoughts I felt my dad’s hand tug on my shoulder. His usual, “Time to get up” comment that had become my daily wakeup call immediately shifted my day into drive. I knew I was going to dominate on the mound today. As I sat up in bed, I looked across my room at my uniform hanging on the back of my door with my number, 21, staring me.
I drank a big glass of orange juice with a couple of donuts. I was focused on what I had to do today. My stomach still felt funny, but I knew it was the anticipation eating away at me. Nervousness was turning to excitement, and I could feel the adrenaline starting to pump. The ride to the field was a short one, but seemed to take forever. As we pulled up to the field, my mom said, “Good luck today”. I got out of the truck and looked out at the field, picturing myself standing on the mound controlling the pace of the game. Then I heard my dad, “Come here a minute”. He took me aside and said, “All you need is focus. You’re a tall, skinny lefty with a gun for an arm. Focus and your ability to dominate will take care of itself.” The nervousness in my stomach suddenly turned to a feeling of calm. At that point, I think confidence and determination had taken over.
My warm ups got me even more pumped up. My fastball was flying out of my hand and hitting the catcher’s glove with pinpoint accuracy. My curve was breaking and dropping right into the target. Even my changeup and cutter were finding their way straight into the mitt. I couldn’t wait to get out on the mound. The coach then pulled me aside for a pep talk. He placed his hand on my shoulder, looked at me and said, “You’re one of the hardest throwers in the league. Nobody’s gonna touch you. Just trust your instinct and ability to pitch and hit like you have all year. We’re gonna win this game.” We made our way back to the bench. The coach said to everyone, “We’re all playing together as a team today. Everyone supports each other, no matter what. He’s gonna give us his A game on the mound and at the plate”. He then pulled out the starting lineup sheet. As he went down the order, I waited to hear where I would be batting. “You’re cleanup today”. The adrenaline started pumping again. Not only was I the starting pitcher, but I was batting as the team power hitter today as well.
We were the home team, so I would be throwing the first pitches of the game. As I walked out to the mound, a couple of my teammates patted me on the back as they jogged by, “Let’s do it. It’s all you today.” I was pumped out of my mind. The umpire threw me out a brand new baseball. I kicked out the dirt around the rubber, and smoothed out my landing spot. My warm-ups were picture perfect. Everything was working – my fastball, curve, changeup, and cutter. My catcher came out one last time and said, “Come on. Show ‘em what you got kid.” He returned to the plate, crouched and called for the fast ball. It seemed like the whole world had suddenly shrunk and all I could see was the catcher’s glove. I knew this meant my focus was on one thing - and one thing only. I went into my wind up, leaned back, and then lunged forward using my legs and hips to deliver the ball. It left my hand like a missile and made its way into the catcher’s glove. As the umpire yelled, “Steeeeerike”, a puff of dust exploded from the catcher’s mitt. I could hear my teammates cheering. Pitch after pitch, I was hitting my target. I blew through the first inning with two strikeouts and a dribbler back to me. I walked off the mound all calm and cool, but inside I was jumping up and down with excitement.
Our first two batters went down by way of a strikeout and pop up. The third batter walked. I came to the plate, took some warm up swings, and stepped into the batter’s box. The first pitch was low and in the dirt. This kid didn’t throw hard, so I knew I could unload on a good pitch. The next pitch was a meatball right down the middle. I ripped the ball on the ground between third and short for a base hit. The third base coach gave me the steal sign on the first pitch. I was in to second standing up without a throw. I then took third on a passed ball, but was stranded there following a popup to end the inning. For the next two innings that I pitched, only two batters reached first base – both on walks. I was throwing a no-hitter going into the fourth inning, but then came my first setback of the game.
With two outs in the fifth, and a man on first, my curve ball didn’t cut the way I had hoped. The batter drove the ball deep to right field. The ball barely made it over the 200 foot fence. We were down 2-1 in the fifth with only two more at bats left to try and catch up. My adrenaline started to pump again, but I began to feel some anger. I had prepared myself mentally for this game, and I felt as if I had let the team down with one pitch. I had to get this kid out, but didn’t want to let this get to me. I took a deep breath and stepped back off the mound, staring in at the next batter and thought, “I can’t change this now. Just focus and finish this.” Three pitches, three strikes, inning over!
We went through the fifth with no hits and no runs. We had one more inning to get back into the game. My job was to get us through the sixth and give us a chance to come back in the bottom of the sixth. I worked through the sixth, walking one and recording all three outs by way of the strike out. My confidence had returned. My team made its way into the dugout where the coach sat us all down for a pep talk, “You guys have come this far. Let’s show these guys what we’re made of. Let’s go!” I would be batting sixth this inning if it even got that far. I sat looking down at the dugout floor, kicking an empty Gatorade bottle back and forth between my feet and hoping that I would get another chance to bat. The first and second batters both struck out. The third batter was hit by a pitch, and the fourth batter walked. With two outs and our number five batter coming up, I knew this would be our last chance. I stood on deck taking practice swings, hoping he reaches base. It was a 3-2 count. The pitch came. “Ball 4”, yelled the umpire. The bases were loaded. It was happening. I could be the game changer.
I made my way to the plate. With one foot in the batter’s box and one foot out, I waved the bat back and forth – adrenaline rushing through my stomach. This was it – do or die. All I could think of was getting the two runs that we needed. The first pitch came in right down the middle. I watched it cruise right by. “Damn, that was it!” I said to myself. I still had two more shots at making contact and keeping us in the game. The next two pitches were balls. I stepped out of the batter’s box again, then made my way back in. I could hear my teammates cheering me on, the parents on the sideline shouting my name, and then suddenly everything became quiet and my focus turned to the pitcher. The pitcher wound up and let the ball go. Everything seemed to slow down. I stepped forward, loaded my front foot, turned my back hip and unleashed what felt like the hardest swing of my life. I felt solid contact as my arms passed violently across the plate. As I finished my follow through, I stopped for a second to see what had happened. At the same time, I heard screams. Not only had the ball cleared the 200 foot marker in left field, but it had also cleared the snack shack behind the fence and the 50 foot pine tree that stood 100 feet beyond the homerun fence. I had won the game with a walk-off grand slam and eliminated the best team in our division. I jogged slowly around the bases to soak up all the glory I could. My team was waiting for me at home plate, jumping up and down – just waiting for me to arrive from my glory jog. As I touched home plate, my team jumped on me.
We lined up and shook hands with Lexington’s team. It was an incredible game, one that I would never forget. As I made my way back to the dugout, the assistant coach came up to me and said that he had put a tape measure on the ball I hit. He said the ball was hit 390 feet – 190 feet past the 200 foot homerun fence. According to my coach, this was the longest homerun ever hit at the field. Although that was impressive since I was only 12 at the time, the fact that I came through for my team and ended up as the game changer was the ultimate reward for me. In a single two-hour game I found out how well I could play under pressure. My focus and determination to do well are things that I have worked hard at when I play baseball. For this reason, I am able to use these qualities to do well in other parts of my life. It was a day in my life I will never forget.





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