Down But Not Out | Teen Ink

Down But Not Out

September 19, 2022
By Anonymous

“Strike Three!” belched the umpire as yet another batter on our team had struck out. Coach Brinser dropped his head in disappointment. I’m sure the only thing that he was thinking at that moment was why now? Up until this point in the season, we had played incredible baseball…. Well except for Weston and myself. Our team had been beating up on every team that we played no matter who the opponent was, but we had both been in an extended slump. As a team we might make a couple errors in a game, but today there were so many I couldn’t even remember them all. We weren’t hitting the ball either. Strikeout after strikeout came and our coaches got visibly more frustrated. It was embarrassing. Every one of us had already written off this game as a loss. We were visibly frustrated and yelling at each other. Our tempers flared hotter by every batter, until Brinser decided to put an end to it. He marched his way up to the dugout at the end of the inning and gave us all a stern staredown. 

“Listen up boys, I’m tired of it. I don’t care if we strikeout, just don’t do it by watching the third strike go by!” We all looked at one another pretending like he was talking about someone else and not them. 

“So how about we stop getting p***ed off at each other and blaming the umpire for every little thing. We can’t control any of it, but what we can control is us swinging the damn bat!”

“Let’s get our heads out of our a**es and start playing some baseball!”

At this point everybody snapped into form. We knew he was right about everything that he said. We weren’t swinging the bat, making plays, and worst of all we were getting mad at each other for our own mistakes. But those words shocked our systems and made us snap out of the mental abyss we were all in. Everyone huddled up in the dugout. Each of us with our hands towards the middle of the circle we now had formed. This was the moment where momentum swung in our favor. This was our only chance to get back in this game, because we for sure wouldn’t have another one. 

“Pirates on three!” exclaimed all of us


Everyone lifted their hand in the air and looked to the sky as we rushed out onto the field, everyone springing to their spots. It felt like we had a new found energy. Maybe we could actually do this. We began to play harder. Little by little the scoreboard started to change. The deficit shrinking each inning. This is what we had needed all game. Everyone on the team was contributing somehow, either with a hit or walk. If not on offense, they would cheer on their teammates from the dugout like we had been instructed. Everything seemed perfect, but we just couldn’t keep this team off our backs. They would score everytime that we did. The Pirates couldn’t break away, but we never backed down. The school we played had the only better record than us to this point in the season, but that was an irreverent matter now. It was remarkable to see how much of a change the team had made after Brinser gave us that needed pep talk. When someone got a base hit, everyone would cheer them on from the dugout, and even when someone got out, we still picked each other up as a team and said things like “good swing,” or ”you'll get em’ next time.” We really did start playing with more of a team first mindset, rather than focusing on how we were doing in the game individually. With every passing inning, we grew more and more confident. Now it was our opponent who was beginning to get frustrated. We had to play extra innings for the first time all season, but what a fitting way to do it against the best team during the last game of the season. We did our regular team breakdown outside of the dugout, and then ran out to our spots one last time for the top of the 8th inning. I was nervous. I knew that every play mattered so much, and one error could give the other team a run. Our pitcher got the first hitter out quickly. Then the next batter, standing tall with a dangerously violent swing, strolled up to the batter’s box. He dug in his back foot into the dirt just in front of the chalk line on the ground in the back of the box. He took some viscous swings, and was growing more self-assured as he timed up our pitcher. He saw a fastball, and roped it to third, right to Weston. The ball ate him up, taking a bad hop off the lip of the grass infield and drilling him square in the chest. He swiftly recovered and threw to first, but not in near enough time. Brinser then signaled to the ump for a time out and walked nervously to the pitcher’s mound. 

“Hey, you’re still fine. Nothing hurts. We’ve got two outs and only a runner on first.” “Throw strikes and make plays behind your pitcher,” Brinser reiterated 

“Yes sir!” we all uttered to reinstate our understanding of the situation. 

As soon as he started off back to the dugout, Weston spoke

“My bad guys, I should’ve had that last one.”

Yo that’s a tough play,” I reassured him  “you can’t do anything about it.”

“I know, but that ball was mine.” He said disappointedly

“Just forget about it, we're fine.” I said, trying to get him to forget about it

We all gave him a pat on the back or a couple words of encouragement and headed back to our spots in the field. The rest of the inning was no issue. Kyle continued to fill up the strike zone. I got more nervous, not wanting him to hit a frozen rope towards me and possibly make an error. Sure enough, as I took a step inward toward the batter, he hit one laser of a ground ball towards me, and I did my best to get in front of it. I knocked it down and was able to make the short throw to first. Phew! I thought to myself as I jogged back into the dugout. Brinser called us out in front of the dugout again.

“Ok boys, we’ve fought hard to this point but we need to end it here. Let’s be aggressive and hit the ball hard!” He said

We got into a huddle again and counted down from three. 

“Pirates!” we screamed at the top of our lungs. 

I sat on the bench, watching the new pitcher as I got my batting gloves on. I was due up to hit third in the inning. Before me were two of our best hitters. I figured they would get on base to give me the game winning opportunity, but the lingering thought of failing made me even more skeptical of the game being over soon. It was the bottom of the 8th, and a tied game at eight runs a piece. Keegan led off the inning with a tough at bat, but got out. Then Max came in to the plate and flew out. I was watching on deck, feeling more relieved that I didn’t have to hit with runners on base and risk letting the team down. 

“Hey…. Jacob!” my dad said under his voice to me through the chain link fence from where he was sitting

“You know how it goes, go up there ready to hit on the first pitch.” he said

“Easier said than done.” I said in response

I sauntered towards the batter’s box, stricken with nerves. I took a quick look around, noticing the bleachers behind me filled with parents watching the game intensely. The hot summer air filled my lungs, along with the distinct smell of sunflower seeds and freshly cut grass clippings. The ground beneath my feet seemed to soften, as if I was sinking into a tranquil state of mind. I dug my left foot into the left handed side of the batter’s box, my metal cleat descending into the clay. Another deep breath. Just breathe… just breathe. I was now ready. I locked my eyes on the right hand of the pitcher, looking for anything close to take a healthy rip at. I identified a fastball coming out of his hand, and I pulled my hands hard through the zone. The barrel of the bat made solid contact with the baseball, as the crack of the bat cut through the air. The ball whistled through the hole on the right side of the infield, past the extended arm of the second baseman. I had just knocked a hit into right field, now representing the winning run in the game. The dugout grew louder and more thrilled. My eyes zoned in on coach Brinser for the signs down at third base. It was another fake sign that meant nothing. I got my leadoff from first, starting with the left foot, then right and left again. My gaze shifted to the pitcher, looking for any movement of his back foot in case of a pickoff. I hadn't been paying attention to who the batter was, but I looked up to see Weston at the plate. 

“Here we go kid! Look for your pitch now.” I yelled to him at the plate

Like myself, he had struggled for the majority of the season. He only had a handful of hits this year, and was the one person you wouldn’t want taking swings in this tense situation. He wisely took the first pitch for a ball. I reset myself and gazed down to Brinser again. Still no sign. He again took the next pitch for a ball. The third pitch came, but this time a strike. It was now a 2 and 1 count. Weston got geared up to crush a pitch, but swung out of his shoes and missed on the next one making it 2 and 2. I got my leadoff from first for what seemed like the thousandth time. This time a little larger seeing that it was two strikes. Brinser gave me the steal sign, as he swiped his hand across his chest. I ran as soon as the pitcher lifted his front foot. I put my head down and gripped the ground hard with my feet trying to run a little faster. but Weston fouled off the pitch. I had to go back. He then took another pitch for the third ball making it 3 and 2. A feeling came across me at that moment, something that made me uneasy. The pitcher delivered the ball and I ran with my head down once again. I heard the booming pop of the bat and looked up to see the ball sailing over the left fielder’s head. I rounded second base. The ball rolled to the wall, as the outfielder frantically chased it down. I chugged towards third, still watching the ball to make sure I was in the clear. I came around third and Brinser reassured to me

“You're fine, don’t watch the ball. You’re scoring.”

But I knew I couldn’t take a chance. I had to make it. The oversized helmet slipped off my head as I touched the base. I threw it off my head and continued home thinking it would make me run faster. I focused only on home plate now. I saw everyone in the background cheering loudly with their hands in the air in astonishment. I took one last long stride and touched the plate with my cleat. The game was over. I made a quick 180 degree turn and looked for Weston. By now, the entire team was jumping on him and creating a huge dogpile. We had just finished the best comeback in Pattonville history. I felt like a hero, but I knew Weston deserved the honor. He only needed one pitch to solidify one of our greatest memories in life, despite struggling all year. After our celebration of good fortune, I walked back to third base to pick up my helmet. I looked into the dirt filled piece of plastic as I picked it up. I was overcome with emotion. I contemplated even playing baseball before the season started. It was shocking to think that if I chose not to, none of this would have happened. I would never be able to hold this memory. I learned a valuable lesson that day, something that you can’t discover if you search for it. It’s never about how you start, but how you finish. Weston taught me that lesson. A true friend, the one who gave me a permanent reminder of my greatest accomplishment.

The author's comments:

This story took place two years ago during my high school baseball season. Almost every part of the piece is true and I experienced it first hand. I have always loved playing baseball and this is one of my favorite memories simply because of the impact.

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