A Sporting Life Part II

I did manage to win a game that year. We were playing a team that was about our size for once, and they seemed to be unusually timid for their age. I was wild as hell when I warmed up before the game, and was even worse when I threw before the beginning of each inning. I had my catcher chasing balls in the dirt, balls sailing high and wide, balls that didn’t come within four feet of the plate.
I somehow managed to settle down when opposing batters stood in the box, and mainly threw strikes. I noticed that some of them seemed reluctant to dig in at the plate, and that they kept leaning backward away from the strike zone as I went into my wind up. I realized that my wildness had terrified some of them and figured out that if I threw one or two pitches inside, I could then throw it by them on the outside of the plate. My strategy worked beautifully for five innings.
When I reached the sixth and final inning I began to tire. It was a hot day. My legs were rubbery and my arm began to ache. The other team had finally figured out that I could be trusted not to do bodily harm to them at the plate, and started to take better swings at my pitches. We were leading by three runs, however, and were in good shape to finally win. I struck out the first batter, and got the second to hit a deep fly to center field. I began to look forward to the ride home and a cool soda. I got the third batter to ground the ball to our shortstop, but he let it scoot under his glove. The ball dribbled slowly into left field and the runner made it to second. I glared at my shortstop for putting me in a bind and lost my focus. I lobbed a pitch to the next batter and he hit a home run. Defeat began to rear its ugly and very familiar head as the runners circled the bases. I walked the next batter on four pitches.
At that point a small miracle happened. I got angry about the strong possibility that I would soon lose another game, but instead of falling apart further, I channeled the energy into throwing harder. My legs suddenly felt sturdier and the soreness in my shoulder went away. The next batter was tall, big, and intimidating, but looked a bit uncoordinated when he took his practice swings. My favorite place to aim a pitch was low and away, but I decided to pitch high and tight to him. I figured that he would have a hard time getting the bat around fast enough to hit the ball. My plan worked: I struck him out on five fastballs that were close enough to handcuff him, and ended the game.
The other team’s coach came over to me while I was still on the mound and congratulated me for pitching a good game. My teammates were happy with me for once, and one or two pounded me on the back in celebration. I couldn’t get over the fact that I had actually managed to win something and walked around in a daze for several minutes before we packed up our equipment and headed to the parking lot.
I lost the rest of my games that year, but in some of them I pitched well enough. I felt more confident about my abilities having won a game, and began to enjoy the challenge when I faced a batter. I liked to study their body language as they took their practice swings, to search for weaknesses. I loved throwing change ups to over eager batters who bounced their forward leg up and down in anticipation as I got ready to throw. It was a beautiful sight when they spun themselves into the ground trying to reach out for a ball that wasn’t coming fast enough.
But I was a poor athlete no doubt. I clung to my small successes at the time and convinced myself that with a little more practice and teammates who could field and hit I could win a lot more games. When I tried out for my high school team I discovered the true limits of my talent. The coaches gave me a good enough shot at winning a spot on the team, and I failed miserably. The head coach took me aside before practice one day and personally told me that I was cut. He did it with kindness, God bless him, as if he were truly reluctant to tell me the bad news. By that time I expected what was coming, but still felt the sting.
I sometimes  miss the feeling of being on the mound, pushing off on the rubber and throwing a fastball. It’s a small act of aggression that also requires skill and concentration. The reward comes quickly with the sound of the ball smacking leather. The catcher nods in approval as he throws it back, and the batter glares in frustration. The duel is on.


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