Safe! No, Out!

December 19, 2008
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Down the side of my grimy cheek, a lethargic stream of sweat found its way to my jaw. My weight shifted around on the balls of my aching feet. Back and forth. Left, then right. Tension built rapidly in the dry, scorching air. Screams of anxious support came from the other dugout so loud, that you could mistake it for a jet engine roaring to life. Fighting against my nerves was my only option, so I tried to steady my breathing. “In and out,” I muttered through my chapped lips. Usually, my confidence would’ve been radiating from me. I’ve done this 1,000 times, I reassured myself. I have absolutely nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, pressure isn’t my forte.

With two outs to our advantage and the championship trophy on the line, the infield in its entirety was thinking the same thing: Get the ball and throw it to first. The runner on third will go home, but it won’t count because the throw to first base will end the game. No worries, just don’t screw up. I glowered at each of the opposing team’s runners. Who did they think they were? They were on our field. My stare held at third base; she was the main enemy. The thoughts in her head were quite obvious, too: I score, we win.

Just as the windup came around, my eyes narrowed into concentration. I was ready. After the pitcher’s arm whipped around, all I heard was a thunderous ‘bam!’ and the yellow streak of light was hurling flat against the dirt directly to my right. Three swift strides were just about all I could afford before I realized that diving was necessary. A realization wouldn’t be the appropriate word, though. It was more of a reaction; it was my instinct as a middle-infielder to do what was required to impede the ball’s journey to the grass.

With one more stretch of my leg, I thrust my body smoothly into the dirt, clouding it around me. To the spectators, it probably had seemed like a little kid amusing themselves with the dust. The ball had smacked into my glove the second my left arm had been extended, but I still had one more task. I pounced back up onto my feet and freed the ball from my iron grip in one fluid movement. It hadn’t been one second when the arms of the man dressed in blue spread out wide, for the whole crowd to see. Safe.

Devastation hit me like the answer to a simple math problem. I kept my face perfectly composed, though; I never let anyone see me gloomy when I’m on the field. My racing heart felt as if it could jump out of me and smack me in the face, forcing me to wake up from this appalling nightmare. I was in a daze. They won; we didn’t.

Looking around, I didn’t see what I should’ve seen. I had expected the…winners, as much as I hated to say that, to be jumping in unison, with their heads held high. I should have seen my team with defeat on their tragic faces walking sluggishly back to the dugout. But I didn’t. The coach wearing my colors was right up next to the very man who had ruined my life. Confusion masked all the players’ faces while the coaches and umpires debated at home plate.
“What the heck is going on?” I managed to ask my fellow middle-infielder, the shortstop.
“Coach said she could’ve sworn that the runner on third…”
Hmph. The enemy, I thought.
“…had left the base before the pitcher released the ball. She left too soon! Isn’t it wonderful? If the umps decide that she had, then that would be the third out! Your little dirt-fest over there wouldn’t count for anything!”
My eyes briefly examined my filthy attire. The brown uniform I was wearing no longer even resembled the bright white one which usually was on me.
The gathering at the plate broke apart. Every set of eyes was glued to the scene in front of them. My coach turned around, a triumphant grin plastered on her face. YES. The very umpire that had ruined my life about one minute and thirty seconds ago now held up the universal sign for ‘out’ after pointing to the runner that occupied third. His glorious fist seemed to knock all of the recent horrific feelings out of my entire being. That one fist had pulled a smile from deep inside of me when I thought obtaining one wasn’t possible before. The emotions had done a complete 180, and I was now overflowing with bliss from the dirt-crusted hair on my head to the worn cleats on my shoes. Smug smiles occupied our faces, knowing that that one simple error had given us the title of “Champions.”
As we began to empty our possessions from the dugout, I couldn’t help but notice one single person lingering out by third. It was the girl who I’d once referred to as “the enemy.” I began to realize that she suffered from the exact same thing as I after making that play. Except that hers was legitimate. She would actually have remorse clouding her thoughts.
“Good game,” I stated after a long walk across the field to stand next to her.
When her eyes came into view, it was like looking into a mirror after my false-alarm play. Sympathy washed over me right then and there. “Thanks,” she replied and offered me a weak smile.
While reminiscing on this experience, several things have occurred to me. One of them being that sportsmanship is everything. I could have stomped around like a whining toddler out there, but I chose not to. Also, taking the time to cheer up someone in distress is worth every second, even if it’s an enemy. In ways, that girl and I are linked, even to this day. We both experienced literally the same emotions during the same period of time, and for some reason all the loathing feelings of competition vanished. And finally, I didn’t look too attractive in the light tan color that coated me; a shower was required as soon as possible.

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lizzy32 said...
Feb. 5, 2014 at 10:55 am
  I was very surprised by what happened in this selection.  I didn’t think they would call the girl on 3rd out.  I’v been in that situation before but it didn’t work out in my favor, I was devastated, felt like it was all my fault that we lost.  But even if you did lose the game it was a team effort and not one mistake costs you the game.  This could happen to any softball team. 
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