The Sox lost Sunday and I refuse to even mention the Patriots. I still have high hopes for the Sox, but I just don't feel like writing about such things until my heart quiets down. Instead, I'm gonna get a little personal (cue the cheesy Liftetime music) and tell some fun sports stories from my youth.
Also, don't ask about the image I chose. It has no meaning, it just looked cool. So, here goes...
I have a confession to make to all of you: I would rather play baseball than watch it. Don't get me wrong, I do love to occasionally watch the bloated steroid-filled monstrosities on TV confuse missile defense systems with titanic blasts that approach low-Earth orbit just as much as the next guy. I just can't help it, though. There is nothing that compares to actually playing the game.
It all started for me when I was so young that I could barely stand. Me and my dad would play catch in the backyard. That means I was diving for balls that were thrown right to me and missing them spectacularly. Occasionally we even played a game called “pepper,” which seemed to the untrained eye to be a recipe for serious head trauma. It was a whole mess of fun, though. Years later I would join little league, where I would discover that I actually had a fair amount of talent. I wasn't amazing or anything, but I didn't suck. Thus, my lifelong passion for playing the game began to blossom.
One of the most memorable moment in my early playing days was in the time I got a double off of Joey Henry. For those of you who have never heard of this kid, Joey Henry was to all of us little leaguers the Leominster Little League equivalent of Roger Clemens on horse steroids. Of course, I would discover years later that Roger Clemens was also Roger Clemens on horse steroids, but that's a whole other story.
Anyway, Mr. Henry threw what seemed like a gazillion miles per hour, had a hard curve ball, and was somewhat wild, which made him terrifying. We all knew that he would have killed us instantly had a fastball connected with any part of our bodies, including the tip of our little toe. Everyone was afraid to face him. When up at the plate, you stood as far back in the batters box as was legally allowed. Had the rules permitted it, most of us would have taken our at-bats in the dugout (or better yet, the parking lot). Once in the box, we would wave the bat at the ball in the same vane as a drunk yelling at a hurricane. The only difference was, the hurricane was more likely to move than than we had a chance to make contact.
Yet, on one fateful day (I don't even remember which one exactly, but it was most definitely fateful), as Henry was cruising to what was likely to be his trillionth consecutive perfect game, I stepped up to the plate. And for reasons unknown to anyone (including myself), I was feeling particularly frisky that day. This was amazing since I was roughly the size and shape of a chihuahua. Clearly I had suffered some previous head injury that I don't remember, because I was standing a mere inches from the plate. And sure enough, the first pitch was the hardest fastball I had ever seen, and a small part of me just knew that death was imminent. But surprisingly, I not only didn't die, but for reasons I swear must be paranormal, I swung the bat.
The sound of the bat connecting with the ball was beautiful. Thanks to the speed of his pitch, my puny size was irrelevant when compared to the rebound force of such velocity against space-age nitrogen-filled metal. The ball soared into the right-center gap, and before I had time to comprehend what had happened, I was off to the races. By the time I stopped running, I was standing on second base feeling very much like Alexander the Great must have felt when he got a double off of Joey Henry.
My teammates were cheering. My parents were cheering. The umpire was cheering. Henry was looking utterly devastated. It was spectacular. I knew right away, even at my immature age, that it would be a moment I would remember forever.
That same season was also the first year I ever was allowed to step onto a pitching mound and pitch, which was always my biggest dream. When this happened, despite being smaller than a leprechaun with the same body mass as your standard crouton, I could actually throw upwards of nearly seven miles per hour. As you can imagine, I really dazzled everyone. I think there were tears (those would be from my coach). It didn't matter how I did, though. It would spark one of my strongest obsessions, and that year would become the second greatest baseball season of my life.
The greatest season I ever had, though, was one which was literally filled to the brim with life-altering memories and defining achievements. It was the summer after I graduated high school, and I was playing for the Lunenburg Knights. I don't know what happened to me that summer or what was different (I suspect narcotics may have been involved), but for some reason I had one of my most spectacular seasons.
I hit extremely well, with an average well above four-hundred. I pitched excellently, coming within inches of a no-hitter, and winning all of my starts. And even beyond the raw stats, I had more than the legal limit of clutch performances for any single player (the police are still investigating). I don't think I will ever be able to forget that summer, no matter how much alcohol I consume. It all came to a culmination toward the end of the season when I would hit my only ever home run.
We were playing in the top of the seventh against Leominster, our arch-rival, and we were losing 4-2. There were two outs and one runner on base when the next batter stroked a double into the left-center gap to put runners on second and third.
I had been riding the bench that day, resting my arm for my next start. I had also been hitting well, though, so my coach decided to let me pinch-hit in the crucial situation. I grabbed my batting gloves, my favorite bat and strode out to the batters box with odd confidence. After a couple of warm-up swings, I stepped in and beared down.
The first pitch was a fastball on the outside corner for strike one. I shook it off; there was nothing wrong with taking a strike early in the count. The next pitch was inside and I fouled it off to the backstop. Strike two. Now, on some level I knew I should have been nervous, since a third strike would have ended the game. But my confidence was inexplicably high, so I stepped back into the box and dug into the toe holes and awaited the next pitch without concern.
Two outs. Two strikes. Two on. Down by two. The last inning. This is the stuff my dreams were made of. I used to pace back and forth in my yard with a bat in hand pretending this exact situation was happening. I must have looked quite insane, actually. I was usually very animated when talking to myself, in much the same way I see people at the bus stop except that I usually smelled better. That's not the point, though. The point is, this was the perfect setup.
So there it was, right in front of me, the magical hero scenario. I should have been nervous, but for some reason, I wasn't. I swear I wasn't drunk. I don't think.
Then it came. The wind-up. The pitch. It was so beautiful. It was a fastball, slightly inside and belt-high. I swung mightily but fluidly, and I felt the bat connect. I was so excited that I made contact that I didn't even take the time to see where the ball was going. I just dropped the bat and took off. As I approached first base, I turned to see where the ball was so I could decide if I was going for two or not. When I did, it suddenly became obvious to me that I had really hit the ball hard. It was still in the air and soaring high when I turned, and before I could digest what was happening, I saw the ball collide with the metal light tower in left center well above the fence.
My head was spinning... Home run... Go ahead home run!... Potentially game-winning go-ahead home run!... I could barely breath.
I rounded the bases with a smile that was wider than most interstate highways, and when I hit home plate, my teammates clobbered me. Had I done something bad (like let a ball go through my legs to end the game), I would have assumed they were trying to kill me. However, since I did something really good, I knew very well that they were actually just trying to kill me.
They pounded my helmet, screamed at me, kicked me in the shins shins, tore my jersey... Completely smothered me. It was fantastic. It was the greatest moment of my athletic life.
Later that same year, I would finish my most memorable season standing on second base as the tying run in the final inning of the final game of the championship series with two outs when I watched the batter strikeout to end the game. To this day, I have still never won a championship at any level of baseball. But I still have time.
I will most likely be playing baseball until the day I die, and maybe even for a few seasons afterwards. I will be a hundred years old, on the mound and barely able to stand while pooping my pants, throwing approximately seven miles per hour once again. It would complete the great circle of life. It will be quite beautiful, actually. Except for my hospice nurse, of course. She'll be the one who will be changing my Depends while I recant my home run tale for the seventeen billionth time. I can only hope she doesn't kill me.
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