At Home on the Field This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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My shoes are full of gravel that's grinding into the soles of my feet and raising a ­blister on one toe. The bruise on my shin, painfully pulsing with each heartbeat, has turned a deep, almost black, shade of purple.

My knee's torn wide open and the Band-Aid won't stick. Blood is seeping through, leaving a rusty stain on the crude athletic tape holding it in place for one more inning. It's more band than bandage though, ­restricting the blood flow to the rest of my leg, as the pins and needles stabbing my calf remind me with every step.

Each movement also reminds me of my last at bat, as the dull ache in my side becomes a severe shock of pain. I'm used to it though; after all these years I've learned that sometimes stitchmarks are the price of first base.

My arm's shot to hell, and my elbow is throbbing. Tossing the ball 50 feet feels like hurling a shot put. Not to mention my ring finger is broken at the knuckle. Every throw is now a test of mental strength.

Fat beads of sweat drip off my forehead, stinging my eyes. My mouth is gritty with dirt. My head, however, has never been better, and my heart is bursting with pride. Even though I'm tired and hurting, even though I'm dripping sweat and encrusted with dirt, for this moment and all those that I spend on this field, I am completely in love with my life.

Outside these rusty chain-link fences I am insecure and reserved. I'm bored and anxious, easily distracted and frustrated, and nothing ever seems right. No matter how white my shoes are or how well my jeans fit, I am never as confident as I am in this uniform. I can fake it like a smile, but I can't do it for real.

No matter how many songs I have on my iPod, there will always be something missing. No matter how far we drive or how loud the music is, I'll always crave something more. Even after an unexpected phone call from a childhood friend, there's still that empty feeling like a hole in my chest. Like Brand New singer Jesse Lacey wrote, “I'm an old, abandoned church with broken pews and empty aisles.”

Don't get me wrong, a new pair of white Nikes is one of my favorite things. I love coming home to find a Hollister box on the steps, blowing a few hundred bucks at the Buckle, and getting that perfect pair of jeans for Christmas. I would be miserable without my iPod, and Brian Fallon's voice is the best thing I've ever heard. I love driving to Fort Peck for no particular reason, jamming out to Brand New the whole way.

I'm always waiting for a late night phone call or a chance to reminisce about the good old days when we rolled our own fingers up in car windows. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything, but still, outside these rusty chain-link fences, even when I'm happy, I'm still not fully content. A part of me is still out on the field and the rest of me is longing to be there too.

I'd always rather be out in the rain, my cleats caked with mud, robbing batters of bases and pitchers of confidence. That's just what I do. Of all of the things I've tried in my life, I've found that you can't beat the feeling of reading a ball right off the bat, diving on instinct at that precise moment, and coming up firing like it was all just reflex.

There's nothing like staring down the pitcher from that undefeated team – the one I know hasn't really been tested yet – and smiling as I dig my cleats into the dirt. Then, as she throws her rise ball, her bread-and-butter pitch, there's nothing better than watching it go right by into the catcher's mitt. After a few more balls and foul tips, she's rolling her eyes in frustration between pitches. Standing there in the box, I watch her demeanor change from calm to panic and I love every second of it; it's a guilty pleasure.

She resorts to throwing way inside, high and tight, to back me off the plate. Nothing makes me feel more in control than digging in deeper, crowding the plate even more, getting a little chalk on my toes, and knowing I have her right where I want her. I'm in her head and no matter what she does, she can't beat me. I live for situations like that.

And finally, when she makes her mistake and throws the only good pitch she'll ever give me, and I put it over the left-field fence, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Everything is perfect, nothing is missing, and I can't help but flash a real smile as I take a victory lap around the bases. I'm playing softball and I am content.

What I experience on the field – mentally, emotionally, and even physically – is difficult to describe. Even when I'm frustrated beyond belief, near tears after a heartbreaking loss, or covered from head to toe in Icy Hot to numb the pain, I know in my heart that there's nothing I'd rather be doing. There's nothing else that I'm supposed to be doing.

It's the brand new pair of Nikes, the jeans that fit perfectly, and a four pack of Rooster Booster all wrapped up in a Hollister box on my front steps. For me, there's no other word for it than contentment.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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