The energy practically buzzed in our ears. It was quiet, but the dull chatter of the early-bird fans was filled with the sensation of the upcoming event. I, in my spotless uniform, waited anxiously for the announcer’s cue. Finally, the familiar crackle of the loudspeaker echoed through the park.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Faubacher Field, home of the state championships.” Just the word “champion” made my heart want to explode. The teams were announced and I stepped proudly onto that white line alongside my comrades waiting for the pledge to finish so we could start the game.
Finally, those magic words were spoken, “Play ball!” I had never seen my teammates run so fast as they sprinted to their positions. At that moment, we were invincible.
The first pitch flew over the plate - strike! Our fans erupted into cheers, as if the outcome of that pitch would determine the rest of the game. We held on for the first inning, barely escaping a bases-loaded jam. In the second inning, though, they came out swinging and jumped to a 3-0 lead. In the third, we came back and put a run on the boards. During the next two innings, they scored four more runs. The game was spinning out of control. The fifth inning gave us another run but that was quickly countered by three more of theirs. In the sixth, one of my teammates smashed a ball over the outfield wall, our only bright spot during the game. In the final inning I watched as three teammates went up to bat and struck out. After the last pitch went into the catcher’s glove, I dropped my head in defeat.
My team and I stood staring as our opponents swarmed each other, cheering and laughing. They looked up at the stands and waved that penetrating signal, their pointer finger raised high in the air to signify that they, not we, were champions. The man in the suit summoned us out onto the field and handed us our trophy. It was elegant, but its silver made me sick. I had wanted gold. They took our picture but no one could even look at the lens for the reflection it bore was one of defeat.
When that torture was over we huddled around our coach but I was paying little attention to his speech. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ground. Then the tears began, which startled me. I did not dare lift my head for fear my teammates would see me. They would surely think, Why is this kid crying over a stupid game? But at the end of our coach’s sermon, I lifted my head to see 24 puffy, bloodshot eyes and wet spots on everyone’s shoulders where they had been wiping their tears.
I knew then that we had really been a team. The fact was we had set loads of school records that year and gone farther in the playoffs than any other team in our school’s history. We were champions, but to those who didn’t know us, we were “not quite champions.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.