I picked up my bat, put on my pink batter's helmet, and walked up to home plate. The sand of the base line shifted under my feet as I took my batter's stance. Feet apart, bat slightly above my right shoulder, my body perfectly aligned with the base, and eyes on the pitcher.
I took a breath. The smell of grass filled nose. My ears filled with the sound of my name. The sun beat down on my face. My fellow teammates on first and second base, in their red tees decorated with two crossing bats and a ball, lunged forward waiting to run knowing I would hit the ball. The other team was set in their positions ready to catch the red stitch leather ball if it came near them. They wore blue tees with Lakeville written across the front.
All eyes were on my me. I was ready. I had never struck out. Confidence overflowed within me.
The pitcher's knee rose up. His glove drew near his face. His hand with the ball in it moved backwards. I smiled. The pitcher released the ball. My eyes followed it. The ball flew toward me. I was ready. Bat set, I rocked back. I drew my hands forward at shoulder height. I waited to feel the contact of the ball with the bat, the vibrations through my fingers, and hear the ping as the aluminum bat hit the hard leather ball, sending it then flying through the air.
I heard the closing of a mitt as the catcher caught the ball.
I had missed the ball. How? I had no clue.
“It's okay. You have two more strikes,” my coach said from the sidelines.
I cleared my mind, and fixed my stance. I concentrated on the game. Again, I breathed in the smell of grass. I turned my head to the pitcher. The ball came at me at a slower speed than before. I locked eyes with the ball and breathed. My arms waited to swing. The ball came into range, and I swung with all my might.
No ping. No vibrations through my arm. Only the sound of the ball hitting the catcher's glove and the umpire saying “Strike.”
How could I have missed the ball again? I was getting angry at myself.
“Swing slower. Keep your eyes on the ball. Breathe,” my coaches voice sounded.
I closed my eyes. My lungs filled with air. I let it out slowly.
I returned my bat to its position, and looked into the field. Eleven sets of eyes looked back. The wind rustled the grass, and a butterfly flew in left field.
I blurred out everything in the field except the pitcher. I was going to hit the ball. The pitcher nodded, and again drew up his knee. The ball became bigger the closer it got to me. I took another breathe and released it and swung the bat. I let my arms swing across my body and my back foot come off the ground.
I closed my eyes and took a breath.
“Strike three!” the umpire said.
“You missed the ball! You missed the ball!” My brother and his friend Austin sang. “You have to use the Tee!” They laughed.
My face was hot. I felt as if I was about to cry.
I took a breath. A tee was placed in front of me. Balanced on top of the tee made of paper towel tubs that had been tapped to home plate was the ball I had missed hitting three times. Everyone went back to their positions.
I locked my eyes on the ball, took a deep breath, and lined my bat up to hit the ball, placed my bat back at my shoulder, and swung. My bat made contact with the ball. I heard the ping of the ball against the bat, and felt the vibration through my hand. I saw the ball flying.
I ran to first base as fast as I could. I ran out the humiliation and anger. The ground was a blur. I was going to make it to first base.
Then I heard the sound of a ball landing in a mitt. I heard the umpire say “Three outs, switch.” I had hit a pop-fly.
I walked back to the bench. My glove was lying on the ground in the shade of the pine trees. I picked it up and looked at the school to gather myself. Other kids played on the brightly colored playground that was fixed next to the baseball field. They screamed and laughed as they chased each other down the slide and spun around on the tire swing. I turned toward the field and tried to get my mind back into the game.
I slid my glove onto my hand as I walked onto the field into my position at shortstop. My glove smelled new. The pink leather was practically spotless due to the fact I could never catch a ball with a glove on my hand. I had practiced so hard all season, but somehow was never able to figure out how to close the mitt after the ball made contact. My glove fit perfectly it was not too big on my fingers and the embroidered 'w' on the back of the palm fit exactly into place.
I adjusted my baseball cap and readied myself to attempt to catch the ball. I spread my legs apart so they were under my shoulders, and bent my knees.
The sun was at my back as the first batter stepped up to the plate. The batter took her stance. Bat above her shoulder, knees bent, and eyes on the pitcher. She took a practice swing, then nodded for her first pitch.
The pitcher picked up the ball and tossed it in the air.
“Is my outfield ready?”
A cry of “yeses” answer his question. He raises his knee, puts his mitt up to his face, draws his arm back, and throws the ball right over home plate. The girl swings her bat. A crack sounds at the impact of the bat on the ball. My eyes trace the position of the ball.
The ball was coming towards me and I lined up with it.I thought if I stared at it, maybe I could control were it went with my mind. I closed my eyes.
The ball hit the palm of my glove. I tightened my fingers around it. A tingling stung my palm where the ball had made impact. I opened my eyes, then brought my hand down and opened my glove. The ball was inside.
“Out!” called the umpire.