The ball is crushed off the sweet spot of the bat, but that is old news to the left fielder. On contact, he is already sprinting to the gap, his legs taking him toward imminent contact with an unforgiving wall.
At the last second, the fielder leaps, catching the ball, right before impact with a sloped wall. Landing awkwardly, he pauses for a moment, gaining his breath back before throwing the ball back into the infield.
Although this may sound like a tale from Fenway or Wrigley, this scene is straight out of Meramec Stadium Baseball, a real life version of what sports should be about.
Starting over four years ago, a handful of young students, ages ranging from 14-16, were bored during the summer. Taking the wooden pole out of my coat closet, and a few tennis balls, I went to my elementary school with my friends Zack, Tony, Zack's brother Syd, and a few others. And MSB was born.
The field that we play on has been switched (we use a neighboring field for larger dimensions), and we have switched to a regular wooden bat. It's definitely no Busch Stadium up at Meramec Elementary, but the game has evolved into a serious sport.
The left field pole (a chain link fence) is 110 feet away from home plate. The short porch in right is a minuscule 94 feet, but good luck getting it over the top of the sloped wall, estimated at almost 20 feet tall. And hitting balls to dead center? Don't even try. It's at least 170 feet deep, and a tennis ball only travels so far.
There are a few regulars, and many visitors. B/R's own writers Zack Warner, and Evan Green, are staples of the game, as are a few others. But friends often hear of the legendary games played in the heat of summer or dusk of fall, and beg to be included.
But just like football or basketball, the sport isn't for everyone. There are easily over 30 players that have stepped foot on the black top for a game of MSB, and few come back for more. The game is intense and passionate. Players just looking to "get outside" should go to the pool. If you want hitting practice, go to the batting cages. The game is for keeps at MSB. I've had a bad game ruin my day.
The rules are simple. Baseball in a microcosm. Three strikes, three outs. However, there are some changes. You must make it to second base on a hit, because only two fielders play behind the pitcher. You can score a max of ten runs in an inning, and if you hit a bomb over the fence, you have to get it. Pitches are slow, but not lofted.
It sounds easy, but it's tougher then it sounds. I've had friends that have hit multiple home runs in high school baseball come up to Meramec, and literally leave SCREAMING because they can't adjust to swinging a wooden bat at a tennis ball going no faster then 40 MPH.
It might never be an Olympic sport, but MSB is a sport with the best of them. The variance in participants is huge, but nobody is above throwing a glove in frustration or breaking a bat after a terrible showing at the dish. When you step onto the field, it doesn't matter who you are; only performance counts.
This is the essence of sports. The way it should be played. Standing outside in over 100 degree heat this summer, I wouldn't rather be anywhere else. When I left for college, MSB was one of the few things I literally would have stayed at home for.
Syd, who is one of the best prep basketball players in our area, has said to me "...honestly man, nothing beats a good game of MSB. I'm not talking a blowout. But when it's close, that is seriously my favorite thing in the world." His brother, who plays Division-II basketball, might be even more passionate about it then him.
Nobody plays for a salary. There is rarely any form of an audience. Yet all of us have left bleeding, and nobody is happy after a tough loss. MSB is played for all of the right reasons. The glory of an amazing play, and the thirst for victory. In a world where athletes have never been more jaded, it's a shot of life that's hard to come by.