He sets, deals. CRACK! The ball shot into the gap in left-center field, and bounced all the way to the fence. “Come on! Get on your horse! Get down!” These were all of the things that my coach screamed out loud to everyone in the vicinity as I rounded the corner of second base, and on my way to third. I slid in cleanly, then asked the umpire for time as I whipped the damp infield dirt off of my leg and cleats. My jersey was never the right color, as I was always getting dirty. It was our second game in the summer tournament, our team was already 1-0, and a win away from clinching the number one seed for the playoffs. I began the tournament going 2-3 with a single, a double, and a walk, and I started off this game 2-2 with a triple and a single. It was a beautiful day at the baseball complex with all of the fields playing next to each other, every team close either playing or waiting to be the next game on. It was a hot summer day, 80 degrees with a slight breeze, and no clouds to be seen for miles.
A couple of innings later, I was up to bat again. My team was up 7-1, confident that we were going to take home the win. My team was always in the running for the championship, and this year it seemed like we were living up to the norm. The other team already won their first game so they put in one of their weak pitchers to save their other guys for the playoffs. The pitcher got set, and fired to home plate. The ball seemed like it was triple the size of a regular baseball, coming in slow and straight. I took a hack, and connected perfectly on the ball, sending it high and far to centerfield. Homerun! I cheered as I rounded the bases, and my teammates came out of the dugout to meet me at home plate. I felt like nothing could stop me, and that I could never get out again. We ended up mercy ruling our opponent 11-1 giving us the top seed for the tournament playoffs! In the huddle, my coach says the same thing every time after a win in a tournament, “Rest up, drink water, and come ready to play tomorrow!” My teammates thanked our coach, and were on our way home.
I woke up the next day at 6:30, because the top seed always played the earliest semifinal game. My eyelids felt like they were a hundred pounds heavy, and my pillow felt like a warm marshmallow. I thought to myself, Why is it that my bed feels a million times more comfortable right when I have to wake up? I had fifteen minutes to get dressed and into the car, so I jumped right into the shower, and got my warm uniform on right from the dryer. The car was packed with myself, three teammates, and my dad, yet it was silent because it was so early in the morning. As we arrived at the field, we started to wake up as we had to play a game in an hour and a half. There were already a few of our teammates there taking batting practice in the cage next to the field, so we jumped right in line. My joints were tight, and my shoulder was sore from throwing the day before. I bunted the first two pitches when I got into the cage as that’s what you’re supposed to do in the first round of hitting batting practice. I stepped up to take a few nonchalant swings in the beginning to get my body loose, and SWOOF, FEWW, VOOM. I swung through the first three and looked right at my coach. He ignored my swings because they were the first ones of the day, and because it was so early. The next few balls I tipped to the side, but still I haven’t hit a ball in fair territory yet. I was getting frustrated so my coach put the balls down, looked straight at me and said,
“Dude, calm down, you’re just having a bad round. Look at the ball and focus on making hard contact.” He picked up the balls again and started throwing. The last couple of balls that I hit were weak dribblers, and jammed pop-ups. “Next,” my coach remarked as he started picking up a few of the balls that were stuck between the nets dividing both cages. I jammed my bat into the ground, being conservative because if I got too frustrated, my coach would sit me for the game. The grass was still dewy, and my face was hitting a patch of sunlight peeking out from the wall of trees in the background. All you could hear were the hitting of baseballs, the footsteps of cleats hitting the ground, and an occasional bird peeking out in the distance.
When I got up to bat to start off the game, all I could think about was the horrendous round of batting practice I took an hour ago. The pitcher threw already, as I wasn’t even close to hitting a ball yet. Strike 1! The umpire yelled. My coach was screaming nonsense, trying to get me pumped and give me confidence. The pitcher dealt again. Whack! I swung as hard as possible and made great contact, only to find out I hit the ball straight into the ground, and to the pitcher. Out! I was only 0-1, but it felt like I haven’t gotten a hit in years. I ended up going 0-3 with two more strikeouts and a walk, but my teammates came up clutch winning the game 6-5. We were on to the championship, but none of us were happy about the fact that we almost lost to the bottom seed in the semi-final. One of my teammates came up to me and said,
“Dude, it’s one game you will be alright. A couple kids on our team are hitless this tournament and you are complaining about one game? Just trust yourself.” They walked away and I shook my head, thinking every word that came out of his mouth was just some nonsense to make me feel better. The championship game was in a few hours so my parents and I went to the local diner to get lunch.
As we walked into the diner, we got that typical smell it had. I don’t know what it is, but every diner seems to have that exact same smell. I turned to my dad and asked, “Dad, what’s wrong with my swing? I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat!” My dad turned to me and replied,
“Nothing is wrong with your swing, Nick. You just have to let go and have confidence in yourself.” We sat down and ate. All the advice that my parents, coach, and teammates were giving me seemed to be the same every time I fell into a “slump”. I didn’t believe them. I was going to listen to what I think. I should go up there, be angry, and hit the snot out of the ball! We got our food and the only thing I was thinking about was crushing the ball in the championship game.
As we walked back to the field I could see the faces of my teammates, all of which were more concentrated than before the last game. It was a half hour before the game, and as we were warming up again, I could see the white paint for the foul lines being sprayed onto the damp infield sand. It was finally game time, so my teammates, coaches, and I lined up for the national anthem on the foul line. While the national anthem was going on, I thought about the advice I was given. It was only one game, have confidence, trust yourself, calm down. I took a deep breath in, closed my eyes, and soon enough it was time to play! My team started in the field because we were the one seed, allowing us to be the home team.
“Here we go kid! Let’s go! Have fun out there!” These were all of the things that teammates said when someone on their team was up to bat. Our pitcher dealt in the first inning, getting out in only 9 pitches. Right when we got back into the dugout, I got my bat and helmet off because I was up third. The first two kids on my team got on base via a walk and a single. I stepped up to the box, and all I could think about was all the advice that my teammates, coaches, and parents gave me.
“Come on Nick, we need you here!” My coach yelled this from the dugout, and I knew it was important because my coach never talks from the dugout. I dug into the box, and got set up for the pitch. The first pitch was a meatball, but I patiently waited and worked on keeping my technique instead of swinging out of my shoes. Boom! The ball shot into the gap, reaching the wall in two bounces! I got a stand up double, sending both runners home.
“Yeah! I screamed, celebrating on second base. I knew I was back to my old self, getting the same feeling of accomplishment when I hit the ball. I ended the game going 3-4 with another double and a single, and the rest of my team did amazing as well, scoring 11 runs in a 11-3 win. We won the championship and as I walked out of the baseball complex, I knew whenever something goes wrong in baseball or even life in general, I just have to take time, and trust myself.