Choke up on the bat. Bend your knees. Tuck your chin. Squash the bug. Watch the ball hit the bat.
Growing up, I loved to play baseball. Second base was my position and I was pretty good at it. I could throw, I could catch, and I was fast. My bane was batting. In baseball, overthinking can ruin a game and I am prone to overthinking. Even though I never really needed to hit the ball because pitchers always seemed to hit me, batting is a major part of the game.
During a little league game when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I learned a lesson that I might occasionally forget, but it’s one that will always come back to me. It was a hot, Texas afternoon. Baseball’s a mental game as much as a physical one and this was the kind of weather that could break you mentally and physically.
Standing by the dugout, I watched as my teammate struck out looking. We were down by one with no one on and two outs and I was up to bat. He slapped the back of my helmet as I walked past him and approached the batter’s box. I went up to the plate determined to get a base hit for once. My mom had told me she’d get me some ice cream if I got on base but that’s not why I wanted to do it. This was about pride. This was about proving to myself that I could do it. I took a few practice swings, kicked up some dirt with my back foot, and got in my stance. The pitcher and I stared each other down, each hoping to psych the other one out. Then he stood up straight and shielded the ball as he adjusted for his pitch. He was tall for our age. Probably around five and a half feet. To me, he was ten feet tall and standing in the way of my hit.
He wound up, reared back, and let the ball fly. Just outside. Ball one! I dug my back foot in, “squashed the bug”, and swung away at the next pitch. Strike one! The next two pitches were balls. All I had to do was stand there and hope he threw one more ball and I’d be at first base. But I wanted that hit.
The pitcher and I locked eyes again before he threw the ball straight down the middle. The ball shot straight over the plate. Swing and a miss. I looked over to the dugout where my dad (who was also my head coach) was yelling for me to protect the plate. Anything close and I had to swing. The ball came in a little high but right over the plate. My hands vibrated as the lower part of my bat’s barrel connected with the ball. It was a bad hit but a hit nonetheless. The ball went to the outfield and I started in a dead sprint for first base.
When I got there, my coach was waving his hat and swinging his arm, signaling me to go to second. I hauled ass over there and had to slide to avoid being tagged. Safe! The shortstop didn’t catch the ball so I thought, “Maybe I can get a triple off of this!” Without hesitation, I got up and headed to third while my dad and everyone in the crowd yelled for me to stop. I had to do this, though. The pitcher ran to pick up the ball and whipped it to third just as I started my slide. I got right under the third baseman’s legs and my foot touched the bag before his glove touched my chest. To this day, I still believe I slid under that tag. The umpire didn’t. You’re out! That’s the ball game!
I walked back to the dugout with my head hanging low. My dad put his hand on my shoulder and I looked up at him. I hoped for some sympathy but would’ve settled for getting chewed out. Instead he said, “You tried to make something special happen and it just didn’t work.” I never knew how much that one phrase would apply to the rest of my life.
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