I remember it like it was yesterday, which is sad because it happened eight years ago and holds little to no significance on my life today.
My little league baseball team was taking on the Dodgers in a game that featured one of those classic Sunday school rivalries. You know the type: church friends on opposing teams going head-to-head to see which is the better, holier player. Or at least that's what my dad told me in the car on the way over.
My churchgoing nemesis was Steven Michaelson. He was always on the "other team." In youth football, in YBA basketball, and in Sunday school debates on who was the coolest disciple. I thought it was Peter. He thought it was Matthew. We almost came to blows.
Therefore, the unavoidable clash of our two baseball teams had much more on the line than just a friendly ballgame. We were opponents. We were enemies. We were eighth graders.
And in our petty eighth grade worlds, this game meant everything.
Nowadays, the only justifiable reason for hinging life or death on sports is competing for a professional championship. Eight teams in the MLB will soon find themselves in just that position as the post-season approaches. And I, for one, am grateful because it justifies my recounting meaningless childhood achievements, regardless of their relative insignificance.
To understand the greatness of this game, one must first understand how much I despised playing baseball. I was always the kid in T-ball who played in the outfield where only the fat kids hit it. I never batted higher than fifth in any batting order. I had nightmares about fielding ground balls and throwing them to first base. I was that kid.
Steven Michaelson, on the other hand, loved baseball. I can only assume as much, considering that he was the coach's son, and he excelled in every position he played. He was the fat kid in T-ball who could hit the ball a mile. Except he wasn't fat. And girls liked him.
Naturally, he was pitching against us that night, and naturally, he was his usual unhittable self. I don't remember the score or the inning, probably because I was more focused on the juice boxes after the game than the game itself. What I do remember is that my friend Nick was on first base. I was up to bat. And the pressure of our entire Sunday school rivalry rested on my shoulders.
From the mound, Steven Michaelson stared me down just like we were debating the finer points of New Testament discipleship. I knew that he was going to throw me a curveball, and I knew that it did not matter because I would blindly flail at anything he threw.
Sure enough, out came the breaking curveball, slowly tumbling toward home plate. The ball twisted outside just as I brought the barrel of the bat around. Smack! (Or Ding! considering we were using aluminum bats.) I had hit it!
Not only had I hit it, I had crushed it! The ball soared toward left-centerfield, flying way past all of the outfielders.
For some reason—either I was too busy admiring my only extra base hit of my lifetime or my friend Nick was really slow—I only made it to second base, but at that moment, second base was on the top of the world.
Not to diminish my hit (for I listed it on my resume up until last summer), but I'm sure it was nothing like raising the NBA Finals trophy or the Stanley Cup. In fact, I didn't even score that inning. And we lost. But for that one fleeting moment, I understood the feeling of exultation that comes with accomplishing something great.
I owe you one, Steven Michaelson.