Batter Up! The Bottom of the 7th
An Eternal Moment — Never Forget
One of my favorite moments on a baseball (softball) diamond came on a night a lot like this night. It was in the gloaming of a mid-summer evening, right at that moment when the sun has descended beyond the horizon, but the sky and all of the surrounding landscape are still lit up with a rare and special golden glow that only lasts for that moment — a moment that will stay with you forever if you can be in that moment.
That night I was, and it has — stayed with me. If all my years of playing ball were in preparation for that single moment, it was well worth it all. I was playing down at the hot corner, third base, a position I loved to play because it required you to always be in the moment. You never knew when a rocket shot of a line drive might come screaming your way, so you were always ready for that. I was playing on a team I truly loved to play on. They were a bunch of guys, all religious as they were from a certain conservative church — and I am not conservative — not a denomination of my preference, but they all shared my love and devotion to the game of baseball/softball, and playing with them was a sheer joy for me.
I was kind of a ringer on their team. A couple of the players had played on one of my teams, the Diamond Flames, and they were in need of a good bat as they were heading into the playoffs one season. One of their big guns had gotten injured mid-season, and wouldn’t make it back in time for the postseason. I was honored that they asked me.
I had to have played at least 4 regular season games with them in order to be on their roster for the playoffs, and so I was recruited to play just in time to meet that requirement. I was a little doubtful at first, maybe even worried that they’d waste their time trying to proselytize to me about their religion, but there was none of that. On the field and in the dugout, we all shared a religious love of the game. I never played with a bunch of guys where that love was so palpable, so readily displayed, and where the whole team was as supportive of one another as those guys were. The following couple of years, I was asked to come back to play for the whole season, and I always looked forward to the beginning of that season with them. I really loved playing with those guys.
So, this moment came in my last season playing, with them or with anyone else, for that matter. I didn’t know it would be, but a serious health condition was right around the corner that would force me out of the game I loved before I had planned to hang up my spikes.
I was truly at the height of my game then, but of all the teams I played with (I played on about 4 different teams at that point), there was none where I played better ball, or with better results. With those guys, I just seemed to be able to be completely dialed in as I manned the hot corner, and my bat was smoking hot with them, routinely hitting scorching line drives into the gaps, playing with a level of confidence I didn’t have with any other team.
So, in this moment, in the gloaming, down there at 3rd base awaiting the next pitch, the next chance to make a great play on a hot hit my way, I looked around at the whole setting, the whole scene, and just for that moment, it took my breath away. I was in utter awe, of it all. It was just so freaking beautiful, and I was so grateful to be right there, in that moment. I damn near cried, I was filled with such incredible joy.
Then, in the very next moment, the pitcher delivered a pitch to the plate, and before the batter even swung his bat at that ball, my feet instinctively carried me towards the foul line, and as the batter sent a scorching line drive foul ten feet to my right, in one motion I was already diving with my glove outstretched, and that ball found its way into my outstretched glove for the out, as I finished my dive and landed on that infield dirt with a hard thud, a ball in my glove, a smile on my face, and thrilled to the sounds of a team that loved what I had just done. As I lay there, I thought, “But I didn’t do it — this moment was a total gift.”
While I had many such moments on a softball diamond, that moment is the one that will probably stay with me the longest. It was only about a month and a half later that I had to tell those guys the sad news about my brain tumor, and that I probably wouldn’t be back for the rest of that season. I was experiencing extreme bouts of vertigo that the tumor had set off, and had to dial back my level of physical activity. Later that year, in the fall season, those guys got me back out there for one final double-header, so I got to wrap up my 11 year playing career playing with a bunch of guys that I really loved playing ball with. My game had already grown a little rusty by then, and was unable to play with the same sheer sense of abandon I was accustomed to playing with them. But, it was a fitting way to end a remarkable 11 year run of doing what I loved to do best.
I left the game with no regrets. I left it all out there on the field, and was left with moments like that described here to carry with me for the rest of my life. Not a bad deal, not bad at all. I am so grateful to have had those experiences. And that brings us to the 7th inning stretch — won’t you join me in singing a funny little song that gets sung at every major league ball park in the 7th inning — “Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd, Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don’t care if I never come back, for it’s root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame, for it’s One — Two — Three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.”