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The Rainmaker This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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There is a moment when everything comes together. All the hard work and commitment. All the long hours, early mornings and late nights. All the sore muscles and achy days.

There is a moment when the pressure wraps around you and shakes you from head to toe until all you can feel is the cold pit in your stomach and the tight knots tangling themselves around your body. Pressure from expectations of others. Pressure from knowing you could end it here and now. You can feel it building.

It is the moment when you need all the confidence you can muster – the confidence that seems to escape you in the times when you really need it. The moment when doubts need to be erased from your mind. But also the moment when those doubts somehow find their way through and flood your conscience. Questioning, they hide in corners, whispering just loud enough for you to hear them.

There is a moment in which you can be the hero. You can reach out for that greatness that suddenly seems meant just for you. You can feel it tingle in your fingertips. And you grasp it, and let it rain. Let it pour cheers and smiles, back-slaps and high-fives. And soak in the praise and respect that surrounds you in a satisfying, suffocating squeeze. Those clouds are looming, ready to rain.

And now that moment is here, waiting for you. All you need to do is step up to the plate.

I hesitate, knowing that I could be marching to my own funeral as I approach the box; digging my own grave as I twist my cleats into the dirt to find my footing; breathing my last breath as I try to calm my nerves; singing my own good-bye song as I hum to keep my mind focused. Focus.

Runners on second and third. Two outs. Bottom of the seventh. Down by one. I’m up.

For those of you who aren’t softball or baseball savvy – that means if I get a hit, we win. Hallelujah: stardom, here I come. If I don’t, we lose. End of game. End of story.

Pressure’s on.

Before the game my coach had said, “This team has beaten us for the past five years. We have to ask ourselves, when is it going to be enough?”

And here, in the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and two runners on, the tying run just one base away, the winning run only two away, everyone seems to be screaming, “Enough is enough!” The fans in the stands supporting us have had enough. The two newspaper reporters, sitting just 15 feet from me for the sake of a good story, have had enough. My three coaches, who have put up with this losing ­rivalry for too long, have had enough. The two runners on base, ready to sprint to the finish, have had enough. My 12 teammates, finally ready to dominate the high school softball world, have had enough. I, the one who could change everything, have had enough.

I am ready – ready to end this for the fans, the reporters, the coaches, my team, and me. Here and now is the ­moment.

Sporting my caged helmet, worn-down gloves, Viking jersey, and confidence, I accept the challenge. I know that in my hand, with strength and ­belief, I no longer hold a bat but a weapon.

I can hear the fans and my team ­behind me, their support and encouragement fading out into a dull buzz. I focus on my coach, clapping his hands as he gives me the okay. I hold up my hand to the umpire, making sure I am in control of this game, and not my ­enemy, the pitcher. I dig my toes into the dirt and twist my ­fingers around my weapon’s handle. I drop my hand as I ready my stance and begin to hum, which focuses my mind on the one thing that matters – the ball. The pitcher winds up and throws her pitch. Ball one.

Next pitch, I check, bringing my bat as close to the ball as I can without ­actually swinging. After verifying with the field umpire that I had not swung, the home plate umpire calls ball two.

Next pitch, ball three. My heart is racing so fast, it feels like it is at a standstill. My stomach is a cold, bottomless pit of nothing. I get the okay from Coach and turn again from his clapping hands. “Look for your pitch,” he says. “Look for your pitch.” I step into the batter’s box once more, lower my hand, and start my hum. My enemy throws her pitch and I watch it fly closer and closer. Look for my pitch. This is that moment. My pitch is here. I recognize it, and then I collect, I ­direct, and
I deliver.

It’s one of those moments that should happen in slow motion. The world should stop as that ball is smacked off the sweet spot of your bat and sent high into the sky filled with clouds, clouds ready to rain smiles and cheers, back-slaps and high-fives. The newspaper will call my hit “towering.” But my slow-motion moment is over in a heartbeat as I watch the ball soar closer and closer to the fence, landing with a soft thud in the centerfielder’s outstretched mitt.

As I round first base while the ball is in the air, I can almost see the rain coming, taste it on my tongue, feel it on my skin. But in that moment, when leather collides with leather, the clouds are gone, leaving only their haunting memory. I turn to face nothing as I close my eyes, not sure what else to do. It’s over.

“Barrington’s freshman centerfielder played the most important flyball of her career as if she was a fourth-year varsity softball player at the position,” reported the Daily Herald. And although my coach agreed, saying that I “couldn’t have put a much better swing on that ball [I] hit,” that “much better” still bothers me. If I had swung just a little harder, we could have won. Enough would have been enough. My moment would have been everything I had imagined. It would have rained like there was no tomorrow. But it didn’t.

People ask me, was it really that close? My mom says every time she tells the story, it gets closer. But the reality is that the ball was about four feet shy of going over the fence – four feet away from winning the game. So close. But not close enough, the game was over.

After we said “good game,” cleaned up, talked to the nerve-racking ­reporters, and my teammates told me “nice hit, Tess,” I went home to a stressful night. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that ball go farther and farther, only to be caught. Over and over I played that moment out in my head. What could have been haunted me as I tossed and turned the game over in my mind.

But the truth was our team had made three errors in the field. We gave up six runs to a team that should have scored only one or two on us. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t come through. My ­moment just happened to be at the ­perfect point in the game for heroism.

I still regret not finishing that moment as I had planned, but moping around wouldn’t change anything; dreaming of what could have been wouldn’t change anything. I decided the best thing to do was to prepare my field for rain. I had to get back up and work even harder, prepare even better, so next time a moment like that comes along, I will be ready for the rain to fall.

Because unlike that softball game, my real game, my life, isn’t over. I still have many more at-bats, and the reality is that not every situation is going to make me a hero. There will be times when I’ll be close. There will be times when that ball will go over the fence. And there will also be times when I’ll strike out. But no matter what life throws at me – a curve ball, a change-up, a rise, a drop, a screw, or a fastball – I will pick myself back up and get ready to take the field. No, my game isn’t close to being over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

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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ShamrockWriter said...
Feb. 3, 2009 at 9:23 pm
Two words: Purely Inspirational. That was fantastic. Your descriptions made me feel like I was there when everything was happening. You had me hanging on the edge of my seat, anticipating how things would turn out. And I like how they turned out-the way things usually do in real life. I love how you tied that together at the end. What life is really about. What you can achieve. Sometimes, it's not fair, but sometimes it's worth while. Thrilling. All you have to do is wait for the right b... (more »)
 
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