With two outs and runners on second and third, the situation was clear. I would either get a hit to win the championship or get an out to end the season. I dig into the box for the sixth pitch of my at-bat, let out a deep breath, and look towards the pitcher. He immediately delivers his pitch, a high fastball that I hit straight back into the catcher’s mask. He doesn’t flinch or wince because he could not feel the pain. Instead, he picks up the ball and gets back in position like nothing happened. I glance over to our dugout and see my teammates jumping and shouting, but I can’t hear any of them.
Dead silence. Just me, my bat, and the ball.
I step back into the box for the next chapter of our emotionless, impassioned battle. I may not be able to feel my legs, but I can feel the bat in my hands. The pitcher attacks me with a curveball this time. I fire my hands and rifle the ball down the right field line. It sails deep into the outfield, but it begins to tail. As I scurry towards first, I try to will the ball back into fair play, but it falls for a foul ball. My heart drops as I realize that we are destined for another chapter of the emotionless battle.
I tap my cleats as I walk behind the umpire and glance to my coach at third base. He gives me a few quick claps before turning to talk to Matt, who is standing on third base. He then yells something to Keegan at first base.
“Two outs!” The catcher howls before turning back to get in position. He pulls down his mask violently, shakes his head, and punches his glove as he gets in a crouch.
I dig into the dirt with my right foot as I adjust my helmet. The pitcher paces around the mound before he climbs on top. He peers at me through the small space between his glove and and the bill of his cap. I spin the bat in my hands and stare right back. He winds up to deliver his pitch. As soon as the ball gets by me, it is flying out of the catcher’s hand, racing Keegan to second base. Time seems to slow down as Keegan slides into the bag. He pops up and signals ‘safe’ before the umpire had a chance.
I nod my head as I take a deep breath and step out of the box. The umpire mutters that there is one strike on me. I make eye contact with my coach and see the helpless feeling in his eyes. All he can do is clap and shout, “you know what to do.”
I step out of the dugout and into the on-deck circle. As I swing my bat and scan the outfield, the glow of the scoreboard in center field catches my eye. We are down six to five in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs Keegan stands at the plate, eyes fixed on the pitcher. The pitcher glares back through the small space between his glove and the bill of his cap. The pitcher winds up and hurls the ball toward the plate. The stadium held its breath until the ball zipped into the catcher's mitt for ball one. Scattered cheers came from crowd behind our dugout. Many of them sat silent and motionless, waiting.
Between pitches I keep swinging my bat. With each swing I can feel another part of my leg melt away to Jell-O. Keegan adjusts his gloves and helmet before he steps back into the box. The pitcher delivers a strike down the middle and Keegan rips it to right field for a hit. Matt, who was on first, rounds second base and slides safely into third. When I let out a sigh of relief, I realize the crowd had erupted in cheers behind me. All I can manage is a small head nod to a teammate in the dugout. I know the crowd is still shouting behind me, but all I hear are
my footsteps as I walk to the plate with the championship on the line.
“Three balls, two strikes,” exclaims the umpire.
I dig into the box and adjust my helmet. The catcher gives the pitcher some signs, and the pitcher nods. The pitcher takes a step and slings the ball to the catcher. My eyes light up as I recognize the fastball out of his hand. The ball glides towards home plate. I pull my hands back and prepare to win the championship for my team. I fire my hands to the ball and watch it come to my bat. As soon as I thought I had the ball lined up with my bat, the ball began to curve. It sunk down and away from me, so I adjusted my swing.
It was too late.
The ball kept sinking lower and lower. It flew past my bat and into the catcher’s mitt. It seemed surreal to watch the pitcher leap into the catcher’s arms and the entire team pile on top of them. I just stood there at the plate, processing that the season had come to an end. With the bat still in my hand, I began the slow walk back to the dugout. All I can hear are the screams and shouts from the other team. My team and the crowd sit completely still, stunned and heartbroken. My teammates come to pat me on the back one by one.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“It was a team loss”
“There’s always next year.”
But I will never be able to forget this year. The year that slipped past my bat.