by Michael Fanta | March 21, 2018 10:44 am
It’s one thing to enjoy being at a baseball field and playing ball; it’s a whole different ball game when you love being there. Everyday spent playing, coaching, or just cheering and annoying your friends who are also playing. That’s why the baseball field is my favorite place. The smell of dirt in the air, hearing the crack of the bat when it makes contact with the ball, cheering parents, and yelling coaches telling the kids what to do. There’s sweat dripping from the players’ faces, and you constantly hear the sound of Gatorade bottles being squeezed to death just to get a little water out.
Also at the field is that one cocky kid telling everyone on the team how great he is at baseball, how he is gonna make it pro, even though he bats close to the bottom of the order, and even the coach knows he is an automatic out. Hearing the umpire call a play, and hearing the boos from the team that loses out on that call. You can feel the silence before every pitch, and your heart beats when you step up to the plate. You can smell the amazing smell of fresh burgers on the grill, you smell the popcorn getting made. You can hear the one drunk dad sitting on the bleachers bragging how good Skittles are. You can feel your friends turn to foes. And all at once, as you step on that field, all outside forces are removed. That weight on your shoulders is dropped right as you walk in, you are greeted by your second family, who loves you like they would a brother.
You can hear the coach telling you to get ready to warm up. You grab a friend, and warm up with him. You talk about the drama at school, talk about that crazy party last night. You can hear the rap music playing through the bluetooth speaker the overly confident player brings. But no matter how cocky he is, you love him as a brother just like everyone else on the team. The other team arrives, and you say hey to your friends, but you feel that it isn’t about being friends anymore, it’s about winning the game and then shoving it in their faces the next day at school.
Coaching brings a whole different level of love into the game. The best parts always happen at the field. Getting there an hour before gametime with the other coaches, discussing what the lineup would be. Asking ourselves if we should really put the worst guy on the team in the starting lineup, or asking ourselves if that guy in his slump should still start behind the plate. You can see the stress building up in everyone. You can hear it. You yourself feel it. You can’t talk like this when the kids on your team are around. You don’t want to break the trust they gave you the first practice of the season.
Gametime comes around. You give them the speech, tell them to “Go out there, play your ball, and win this championship!” Your team hits the field, it’s gametime. Parents are cheering already, you hear the announcers say “It’s time to play some baseball!” You and your coaches look at each other, knowing one win and you win it all. You can lose one because you are the winner of the winner’s bracket, but you would rather not play a second game. The temperature is 33 degrees out, and the parents have their winter coats on. Kids are wearing undershirts with sleeves on them. You can see the bulge of the hand warmers coming from the back pocket of their baseball pants. You hold the book, ready to mark down every out, every hit, every walk, anything baseball terms, you are ready to write it down.
The first pitch happens. The other team takes a swing right away, foul ball. You hear the sound of relief from your fans, and the coaches. One coach says, “Don’t throw it down the middle like that or he won’t be on the mound long!” The catcher gives him a sign, curveball. The pitch this batter has struggled to hit all year. The pitcher warms up his hand real quick with his hand warmer, and gets the new ball from the ump. He goes into his windup, each pitch felt like forever. The batter, ready to swing again, took a big swing at the curveball, and completely missed. Strike two. The count is 0-2, and our pitcher is ready to strike him out. He gets the sign again, all of us hating how we felt, the stress, worried about who goes where, everything. Everything was coming to real time now, after the pitcher threw the pitch and got a strikeout. We all realized we didn’t have to worry. We prepared our team for this moment, we gave each other high-fives, and kept watching. It was our turn to bat, and from the start us coaches saw that the pitcher isn’t ready to pitch. First pitch, leadoff triple for our team.
Going into the top of the 4th, we lead 16-4, needing to hold them to two or less runs to end the game by slaughter. A new pitcher is in now. He gives up back to back hits. I call timeout and visit him on the mound. You feel the silence, you can see the dirt under your feet kick up as you walk. The shortest walk a coach can take, it feels like you are walking across the world. You finally get to the mound, five seconds in reality that felt like five years. You tell the pitcher “Three outs, all we need, you got this.” A smile glows on his face, and you give him a pat on the back. You begin the long walk back, but that walk is worth it. When you get back, the coaches ask “What did you tell him?” I just simply reply with “Told him not to worry, we aren’t worried all season, this isn’t any different.”
And there it was. The pitcher got three strikeouts in a row to end the game. The championship was won. The crowd is cheering, the other team’s parents are silent. The other team, looking like they were about to cry, lined up to give handshakes after the game, like they did every game. Friends are telling friends great job on winning. You get all the kids together from your team. Tell them great season, how proud you are of them, and that you hope you see them next year. You and your team take one last picture together, marking the last time ever that you guys will all be one team.
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