Sweat dripped from my brow. My heart violently pounding in my chest. Everything around me was a blur. The ball came in so fast that by the time I blinked it was already by me. I silently yelled at myself for letting that one go on by. My stomach churned as I began to realize that I might be our last hope. A whole zoo sat in my stomach. It was the biggest moment of my life. Here I was with a chance to help my team advance and maybe even have a shot at playing in the Little League World Series. I stood face to face with a once in a lifetime chance to make my dreams come true. I finally had the chance to make the imaginary backyard games into a reality and I was frozen in my tracks. All I could do was watch. I only had one more chance and I had to make the most of it. The ball came in again and this time I didn’t miss it. The energy from the roar of the crowd and my hysterical teammates carried me around the bases.
It was so deathly silent that you could have heard a pin drop. Nervous energy filled both teams to the brim. My teammate Michael stepped into the box and spat into his gloves. Seemingly every single year came down to this game. All hard work that had been put in, came down to this. Every moment of joy and infamous misery came down to a bitter rivalry. Divine hatred shown on each player’s face as he stared into the opponent’s dugout. The stress rose to a malevolent level and carried each player. This game was no longer about who was the better team. We were always the two best teams. It was now about pride, heart, and perseverance. The most composed team would end the game on top.
“C’mon Michael! You got this man! All we need is a hit and we tie this baby up!” I yelled and immediately regretted it. My lungs burned in the intensity of the moment. Michael was one of the youngest guys on the team, and there was a reason he was hitting 8th. We had no hope. He would strike out, and our season would be over. Everything that we had worked so hard to accomplish would be gone in a single instant.
Michael’s stern and focused face sent chills down the pitcher’s spine. The pitch came right down the center of the plate. CRACK! The ball went up and up. It pierced through the air. We watched helplessly with faces pressed against the dugout fence. We were frozen in our tracks. All we could do was watch. The ball peaked before falling through the branches of the awaiting tree.
The dugout went ballistic. We stormed to Home Plate to swarm Michael as he crossed the plate. The deficit was gone, and so were our doubts.
We were leading by a run. I watched as my teammates gathered at the plate waiting for me to cross. Their once apprehensive faces were now gleefully filled with satisfaction. How had their attitudes changed so fast? Just hours earlier they had royally disgusted me with their talk of how badly we would lose.
“There is no way on Earth that we are going to win this game. Look at them they are gigantic. We are going to get mercy ruled. There is no way that we can play with these boys.” One of my teammates had said. At one point I couldn’t take it anymore. I got into a couple of their faces and rebuked their stupidity.
“STOP IT!” I yelled with my face placed just inches from theirs. My fists clenching the jersey that sweatily clung to their chest. My warm breath hitting them between the eyes. I furiously chastised them for their words, but breathed fire, hope, and life into each one of them. “This is our game! We win this and we are champs. I’ve been here before. I’ve had these same feelings, but we are just as good as these boys. We WILL beat them.”
“This is our game for the taking!” Michael chimed in.
Things were completely different now. They were so confident. Even a little bit too confident. We only lead by a single run and two more innings still remained. We couldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
“Aye! Everyone come here.” I yelled to them when I trudged into the dugout after being stormed by my teammates at home plate. “We can’t settle yet. We have two innings left to play. We can win this thing, but we need to stay focused. They have already shown that they can score runs in a hurry. We can’t give them hope. Show them they aren’t good enough. Shove it down their throat!” Fire shown in their eyes. They were ready to go and ready to compete. Why couldn’t I feel that same confidence? Why was I so nervous? I could talk the talk, but why couldn’t I walk the walk?
“Get in here! Finish on 2!” Michael yelled above the roar of the team. “1…2…”
“FINISH!” We all yelled.
I felt the wind brush across my face as the batter swung and whiffed. My legs were glued to the dirt. What just happened? Then it hit me. We were district champs! My legs turned to jello. I wobbled as fast as I could toward the pile of my teammates on the mound. I looked around me and all I saw was faces full of confusion and shock. We weren’t even supposed to be here, and yet we had found the will and paved the way.
“WE ARE CHAMPIONS!” were the shouts that filled the air. Our coaches normally stern and disturbingly angry faces were now filled with joy. Smiles spread across their faces.
I sprinted back towards the dugout. That was almost too easy I thought to myself. Michael’s arm was fresh and had made their hitters look silly. Each one walking to the plate and three pitches later took that same walk back to the dugout to sit their butt on the bench.
“Hey!” I shouted to my teammates. “This is our last chance at the plate. Let’s make the most of it and push this game outta reach!”
“Yeah. These boys don’t want this as much as us. This is our chance to kill their hope. Let’s get it!” Michael responded. I looked around me and at my teammates. I saw the fire in their faces and the confidence they took with them with each step they took. Why couldn’t I feel the same? Why couldn’t I feel the way that I acted? Nervousness filled me. My legs standing stuck to the ground like footprints in drying cement. I gingerly lifted my sweaty palm and sprayed water onto my face. The cool liquid hit my face and immediately sent a chill down my spine.
STOP! I told myself and forced myself to focus on the game in front of me. I stared from the dugout as my teammate stepped to the plate. I had to continue to play and not focus on myself, but rather my teammates and the game in front of me. The opponent’s manager was at the mound talking to his pitcher. That’s odd I thought to myself. Why wouldn’t he just talk to him in the dugout before the inning?
BANG! My thoughts were interrupted by the crack of the bat. I watched the ball float through the air and drop lifelessly into the shortstop’s glove.
“I could have sworn that the ball was hit way harder than that.” I said.
“Yeah it must have hit the end of the bat. It sure sounded really good off the bat.” Michael said in response.
“Well get us started my man! Get on and I’ll hit ya in. Let’s make this a game they’ll remember forever.”
“Heck yeah! Let’s do this, bro.” Michael said as he walked arrogantly to the plate. Michael stepped into the box smiling. The pitcher drew back. His jaw clenched. Sweat dripped from his brow. His face wrinkling from the pressure of his teeth pressed against his lips. He gingerly walked up the mound and situated is feet on the rubber. With each movement he made Michael’s smile grew wider. He had the pitcher right where he wanted him. In that moment I knew that my at bat wouldn’t be the one that brought Michael home. He was going to do it all himself. He was going to hit a homerun and make this a two run ball game. CRACK! The bat connected and the ball took off flying directly towards the centerfield fence. But something was wrong. The sound of the ball hitting the bat wasn’t right and a ball that should have landed over the fence landed effortlessly into the center fielder’s glove.
“WHAT THE HECK!” Michael shouted as he furiously ran into the dugout, throwing his bat down in disgust. “I hit that ball a mile and it just floated up there.”
“Something is definitely up.” Coach responded as he walked onto the field. We all watched as he walked up to the umpire. Ensuing a short conversation the umpire walked to the mound and coach followed. We all looked on in utter confusion. The umpire took the ball out of the pitcher’s glove and handed to coach.
“That’s stupid!” We all heard coach yell. “You gotta be able to do something! They flippin’ cheated!” WHAT?! I thought to myself. What are they trying to do? How could you even attempt to do something that stupid?
“Their coach switched out the balls for this rubber piece of crap.” Coach explained to us. “But I guess the umpire can’t do anything because they can’t prove that the other team actually did it.” I was enraged. How could you do something like that…again.
We immediately knew what they were doing, but we couldn’t let them know that. The 6’4’’ 250 lb man stood in the batter’s box, but he wasn’t supposed to be there. They had skipped over their worst hitter in order to get to their best hitter. An illegal move that would cost them two outs if they were caught. THWACK! The ball connected with the bat and flew through the air easily gliding over the fence and into the pines beyond. The opponent’s dugout exploded in excitement. They now led by a run. Or did they? As soon as the batter crossed home plate, coach confidently walked towards the umpire. After a short conversation with coach the umpire motioned towards the other dugout, asking the coach to come to the plate. When he heard what the umpire had to say he exploded. Coach only smiled and winked at us as he walked back to the dugout. They had attempted to cheat by replacing the player with another, but we had snuffed them out.
Fury boiled up inside of me. How could you try something like this on two different occasions? The feelings of anxiety and unease left me and instead became filled with an inferno fire. They had made a fatal mistake, and they were surely going to pay for it. I slowly walked to home plate, taking a lot more time than needed. I stared at the pitcher as I walked with a smile gleaming across my face.
“The party’s over. You idiots just gave us all the more reason to lay it on your butts.” I said to the catcher as I stepped into the batter’s box. I shifted the bat in my hands. Feeling the coolness of the aluminum. I gripped it tight, allowing it to rub against my rough and callused hands.
My focus drifted back to the pitcher. I stared right into his eyes. He weakly stared back, but only for a minute before he wound up and fired the ball towards the plate. Every muscle in my body grew tense as I drew back ready to swing. The ball came in about knee high. I swung, exploding on the ball with all my might. The roar of the crowd filled my body with excitement and utter joy. For the first time that day I knew that we were going to win this game and yet again be CHAMPIONS!