The night was hot and the air was heavy with an unusually high humidity for April in Alabama. As we arrived at the park we saw the fields of green and the nice chalk lines over red dirt that can stir so many positive emotions from those of us who love the game. The familiar "ping" sound reverberated throughout the park, and it is a distinct sound that can only come from an aluminum bat. Children wearing bright colors of all kinds were running everywhere. Their names printed solidly on the back of those jerseys with numbers underneath. Important numbers, no doubt. Numbers are important. Through the sea of baseball caps and uniforms we made our way to the batting cages to properly warm up for the athletic contest that would occur within the hour.
The hero stepped into the cage as if a gladiator of old entering the arena. His blonde bangs fell out from under his hat almost hiding eyes of blue. He pulled his weapon of choice out of a bag full of the tools of the trade. Steely eyed he stepped into the cage with malicious intent on his mind. The baseball would bear the brunt of his extreme prejudice and force. The smell of fried food was intoxicating, and all seemed right with the world at this very moment. Nothing other than the present seemed to matter to anyone. All of life's stressors melted away at this oasis of grass, dirt, and metal fences. A certain comfort was brought to all, and it was accepted that this was good. The young man took his swings and gave way to another wanting to do the same.
The team gathered together as they walked toward the field where the game would be played. Loud pops from leather gloves being struck by baseballs was the music for their entrance, and the music was good. Preparation for the contest continued, more "pings" and "pops" were heard clearly, and a stray yell of, "You missed that one Blue!" provided the background noise. The combatants may be small in stature, but the heart and desire was far from diminutive. This would be one for the ages. The hero and his fellow ballplayers were properly fired up by a post game fire and brimstone speech by the coach. His eyes on fire with the passion that was surely shown many years ago in the same setting, and his voice erupted with a sense of urgency that was delivered honestly. Game time had come.
A run here a run there, nice plays on both sides kept the game even throughout the early stages, but a massive blow to the baseball by the opposing team had caused our hero and his band of merry baseballers to temporarily hang their heads. The deficit was challenging, but not an impossible task. The team leaders stepped up for motivation, and the coach did the same. Time was not on their side as the game continued, and it seemed that victory may be slipping away. Then great plays in the field breathed new life into the downtrodden warriors, and a diving catch inspired the crowd. A fever pitch of hope began to rise, and the tension in the air, already thickened by the humidity, was suffocating. One last chance remained.
The home team came to bat with it all on the line, and three runs were needed to tie and four to win. The first batter up struck out, and the second popped up to the third base- producing two outs. The game seemed to be slipping away, but a walk was issued to the next player and a runner was on base. Then a base hit, and another walk filled the bases and the hearts of the players and fans. Who was it that began the long walk to the plate, but our hero his blue eyes on fire with determination and his hair drenched with sweat. A calm confidence was with him, although his hands were shaking with nerves. As he walked he heard the words, "It's all up to you! Go out there and win the game!" He shrugged his tiny shoulders and said, "Ok." His hands tightened on the bat as he stepped in close to the plate, and it felt as if his heart would leap from his chest as the pitcher took his wind up. From the soles of his feet to the tip of his cap he gave it all his little body had, and clenched his teeth as the fast ball came hurling toward him. His eyes followed the ball all the way to the bat as it was met with a mighty blow. He sent the ball travelling with a blistering line drive that found its way between the 2nd Baseman and Shortstop. Then the ball was past the center fielder heading to the fence. One run scored, and then two, and our hero ran with a speed that he summoned from a place he didn't know he had. Three runs scored and the game was tied. The Centerfielder caught up to the ball, and threw with all his might as the little blue eyed boy approached third, and was waved home. Dirt flying from underneath his cleated feet, and arms churning with the sheer force of his determined legs. The ball headed toward the catcher and so did our hero, and the outcome to the game would be at the plate. He sacrificed his body and slid with all he could as the catcher caught the ball. His feet slid over the tip of the plate, and he looked up to the umpire for a signal of the result, and with arms waving and in a loud voice the official yelled, "Safe!" "Safe!" The young man was mobbed by team, coaches, and parents alike. The eruption of cheers was deafening and seemed to shake the ground. The boy stood up took off his helmet and took a deep breath as if he hadn't done so during the entire event. A huge smile covered his face, and his blue eyes lit up like Christmas morning. It was a good day.
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