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A Memorable Spring MAG
The noise echoes through the park as the ball rises into the air. The batter has hit a blooper to right field. If he gets on base, our opponents will take the lead. We, the Phillies, can't allow that. Giving the other team a lead this early in the game would be dangerous. It could spark a series of runs, and we can't let that happen.
That ball is tricky. It threatens to land right between the second baseman and the outfielder. A good right fielder would know what to do. A good right fielder would get to that ball, even if he had to run, even if he had to sprint, even if he had to dive. The only problem is, we don't have a good right fielder. We have me.
Let me rewind by summing up the season. This wasn't major league baseball; we weren't the Philadelphia Phillies. We were the Haverford Phillies, a mediocre, scrappy group of kids playing in an organized league throughout my suburban town. This was my first year playing, and what a peculiar experience it had been. From the first practice to the final game, I never encountered a more bizarre athletic season in my life. I started out as the worst player on the team – maybe even in the league – and finished with little improvement. In fact, nothing during that season really changed at all, except for one thing: my confidence.
What made that season memorable, then? Well, maybe it was the way our first practice ended due to an injury – not to a player, but to the head coach (he was knocked out by a rogue ball during a hitting drill). Maybe it was the way our season started. Maybe it was the way our season ended. Maybe it was something else. All I can say is that I'll never forget it.
Anyway, there wasn't really much hope for this odd group of boys. We started by losing more games than we won. At times we didn't even have enough people to play – the games had to be postponed or even forfeited; however, we were able to put a few wins together and finish the regular season with an overall less-than-stellar performance.
Most of the sloppy play could be attributed to me. Any time I was on the field, something was guaranteed to go wrong. I spent almost all of my time in right field. The coach was required to play me for at least three innings, and he was always eager to replace me once I fulfilled my quota. I don't blame him. I often regretted deciding to play in the first place. Baseball seemed great on TV and in pick-up games, but I soon realized I was lacking some essential skills that greatly limited my ability.
After the regular season, we prepared for a short-lived playoff run. We entered the bracket at one of the lowest seeds with no hope of surviving more than a few rounds.
But something happened during the playoffs, and I can assure you, it had little to do with me. Our team began got better. It started with an improvement in our pitching, then advances in our hitting. We won the first round, and the second, and the third.
Next we found ourselves up against a really good team, perhaps the best: the Cardinals. They had superior hitting ability, a ruthless coach, and the best pitcher in the league. His name was James, and he threw faster than most high school baseball players. He was a monster, and I feared him.
The day came, and I found myself at the plate, facing this terrifying pitcher. I quickly dodged a near-70 mile-per-hour ball. I don't remember whether it was a strike; I was just trying to survive. A few pitches later, I returned to the bench after an embarrassing strikeout. This was the lowest I had sunk in my career; my confidence hit bottom. I zoned-out the rest of the game, certain we would be eliminated.
Somehow we won that game. Our star hitter, Alex, cracked a bomb over the outfielders. We were saved, at least for the time being. That win gave us a free ride to the championship. Amazingly, we had a fighting chance to win it all.
And that's how I find myself on the field, chasing down this blooper ball. It has to be caught; I have to run faster. Finally, after what seems like hours of sprinting, I stretch out my arm in a last-ditch effort. I feel the ball enter the very tip of my glove; I did it.
The runner on second base clearly didn't expecting me to catch the ball; he started for third without tagging up. I realize this immediately and throw to second as hard as I can. It hits the target – a double play!
The inning is over, and so is the other team's hope of winning. As I jog back to the bench, my coach yells at me, loud enough for the whole park to hear, “Son, you're a baseball player!”
The rest of that game is history. Out by out, we fought our way to winning the championship. We ended the season in style. The Haverford Phillies had done it, and it was the most exciting sports experience I have ever had.
Every time I wear my championship sweatshirt, I reminisce about that season. I started as a novice, gained some experience along the way, and turned myself into a real athlete, ultimately helping our team win the tournament. The greatest reward from my short-lived baseball career was confidence; the lessons I learned from that season don't just relate to sports. I discovered the advantages of effort. I realized I shouldn't be afraid to try something new, because life can always surprise you, even when you least expect it.
You never know – your next long shot might just lead to a championship too.