It was the bottom of the last inning. Two outs, runners on second and third. Score was tied. All the home team needed was a base hit to win the game.
Seconds before you could hear the crickets chirping in the mid-summer night air as the batter walked up to the plate, then as if on cue, the crowd on both sides were on their feet.
The home team fans shouting words of encouragement to the batter, “You can do it” “Wait for your pitch!” “Just get the bat on the ball!”
The visiting team fans wanted to see their pitcher bring the heat “no batter, no batter” “Throw strikes, he can’t hit them!”
Nobody knows for sure but it looked like the batter and pitcher were barely breathing. The pressure on two nine-year-olds was immense.
The batter’s dad was coaching first base and didn’t know if could stand to watch his son under such pressure. His only thought was “please dear Lord, don’t let him strike out”.
The head coach shouted “Time blue” from his spot down the third base line. “Come here, son” he said as he walked towards his player.
“Oh great” thought the batter “Guess he’s gonna yell at me one more time about watching the ball and not leaving the bat on my shoulder”.
The coach was not what anyone would call touchy-feely. He was the kind of coach who would chew the team out after they played a near flawless game. Hugs and atta-boys were not part of his coaching philosophy.
But for some reason the coach went against the grain as he bent down so the batter could hear. In that moment the coach decided he was talking to a nine-year-old boy who was so nervous he couldn’t spit, instead of a baseball player.
The first word out of his mouth was “Breathe”.
The player was so startled he didn’t know what to do.
For a second time the coach said “Breathe”.
Like any good player, he followed instructions.
After a couple of deep breaths the coach asked “have you been giving me your best the whole game?”
“Yes sir coach” was the reply.
“Then all I expect out of you right now is your best. And remember, we lose as a team and we win as team. Together.”
A visible look of relief came over the boy’s face as he strode back to the plate. He dug in and waited for the first pitch.
“Strike One!” shouted the umpire to a pitch that was right down the middle.
The batter looked over at his dad who winked at him and said “you just saw his best pitch.”
The player stepped back in the batter box for pitch number two. “Ball, outside” was the call.
The sense of calm the player felt was so unusual it almost frightened him as he stepped out of the box to adjust his gloves.
Pitch 3 “Ball, too high”
The count was now 1 and 2 which meant the pressure had shifted back to the pitcher.
In a stunning display of wisdom, the batter thought the pitcher would go back to the fast ball. Sure enough it was right down the middle.
The batter swung his bat for the first time. Ding went the aluminium bat and the ball lifted in high in the night sky.
The home team dugout started shouting “it’s gone!” but because of their angle they didn’t see the ball drifting outside the right field line into foul territory.
The umpire shouted “Foul Ball!” and the home team groaned while the visitors started breathing again.
Now the count was 2-2.
Before the first pitch, the batter’s mom could not take the suspense and instead of cheering from her seat, she was pacing behind the bleachers. She ran to look when she heard the ding of the bat but was now back to pacing.
For pitch number 5 the pitcher did what all nine-year-old baseball players do, he went with what he was comfortable with. Another fastball down the middle.
This time the batter was ready. Aluminum met cowhide and the ball screamed by the second baseman into right field. Basehit. Runner Scores. Game over.
As the batter ran through the bag at first like he’d been taught, his dad, a man not known for outward displays of emotion, picked his son up in a hug and spun him around. Why? Because the dad understood that something even more important than winning a game had happened. His son had come through under pressure. His nine-year-old boy had taken a giant step towards manhood.