A few days after “The Rarity in Right Field” – as my miraculous catch came to be known – the Dodgers were mired in yet another losing effort during our last game of the regular season. This game was meaningless, so Dad and Tom’s dad talked it over and made the decision to save our best pitchers’ arms for a hopeful playoff run the following week. Our opponents for this game capitalized on that decision, jumping out to a quick and early lead.
The score wasn’t as lopsided as so many of our games had been during the summer, but things were looking hopeless going into the final two innings as Dad’s hand was forced to start putting in our bench warmers. Something strange happened, though, as our bats caught fire and we cut the lead down to one run going into the last inning. We managed to hold the other team to their slim lead in their final at bat, giving us a chance to come back for a second win in as many games.
Our lead-off hitter already had two hits in the game and was now facing the fourth substitute pitcher the other team had put in. Our dugout was going crazy with excitement at the prospect of winning our third game. With a count of two balls and one strike our hitter hit a towering fly ball down the right field line that curved foul just out of reach of the right fielder.
Now facing a 2-2 count, our hitter dug in with determination. He glared at the mound, just daring the pitcher to try to get one past him. The next pitch could have been clocked with a sundial. The crowd hushed as if in anticipation of the sound of a mighty clash of bat on ball. Instead, they got a mighty “whoosh” as the ball dropped just beneath the bat for strike three.
I had the misfortune of a front row seat for all of that spectacle from the on-deck circle. My batting average at this point in the season was a disrespectable .000, having gone 0-for-the season. At least I won’t be the final out of the game, I thought.
I stepped towards the batter’s box and looked out at the pitcher. His catcher yelled out to him, “Okay, Brian! You can get this guy!” I gave the catcher a dirty look before stepping in. Okay, Brian. Let’s get this over with, I thought.
The first pitch was a swing-and-a-miss for Strike One.
The second pitch ended as a dribbler down the foul line that stopped about halfway down to first base. It wan’t much, but I made contact for 0-2.
“Thad!” Dad yelled from the third base coach’s box. I stepped away from home plate and looked down the line at Dad. “Take a deep breath and relax. You can hit this guy. You can do it, now.” I did as Dad instructed and stepped back towards the plate.
“C’mon, Brian! This guy can’t hit anything!” the catcher shouted. I looked at him again, only this time I felt something I hadn’t felt all season.
I was pissed.
I stepped back in the box full of something else I hadn’t felt all season: determination. C’mon, Brian! Let’s get this over with!
Everyone watching knew what was coming next. Brian threw the same sundial pitch that got him out of trouble earlier. I reached back and swung as hard as I could.
The solid contact I made was the sweetest thing I had ever felt.
The ball soared into the outfield, fell between two outfielders, and rolled towards the fence. Tom’s dad was wildly waving his arm while telling me to go to second base. My teammates were going ape as I ran past the dugout, some of them clinging to and rattling the chain link fence.
I chugged towards second. Somehow, someway, I remembered the fundamentals Dad drilled into us months earlier during our daily practices. I looked to him at third and found him holding up his hands to tell me to stop at second. “Stand up! Stand up!”, he directed me.
Huh uh, I thought. This was my first, and possibly last, chance to slide into a base. It was a beautiful slide from my point-of-view as I slid in safely. My uniform, at long last, finally needed a genuine washing!
Dad was beaming with a wide grin and clapping at me from the third base coach’s box. My teammates were still going crazy. Tom’s dad was clapping for me as well. The parents in the stands were cheering wildly.
Wow! This is pretty cool.
Sadly, my first hit in baseball didn’t provide a Hollywood-ending. It proved to be anticlimactic as the next two hitters struck out to end the game. Even so, despite the loss of the game, I was too excited to contain myself. The hatred for the game I had felt earlier in the week was a distant memory. Thanks to one catch and one hit I now LOVED this game and wanted to play it forever.
Dad and I stopped at Grandma and Granddad Studebaker’s house to share my big news. It was still early enough in the evening that their garage door was still open. I raced through the garage and threw open the door to the kitchen. “Granddad! Granddad!” I shouted from the kitchen door.
Granddad walked into the kitchen through the swinging doors that led to the living room. “Hey, there,” he exclaimed, feigning a gruff attitude. “Who is that? What’s going on in here?”
“I hit a double play!” I excitedly told him.
“You hit into a double play?” He gave me a confused look, no doubt wondering why I’d be so excited about that. He looked at Dad – who was just then entering the kitchen – with the look of confusion still etched on his face. “He says he into a double play?”
Dad laughed. “No, no, no. He hit a double tonight.”
“Wellll, atta baby!” Granddad declared, as he squeezed my shoulder. “That’s much better.”
I beamed with pride.
Grandma, who had been out working their flower beds, came in from the garage demanding, as she peeked around the door, ”Who’s making all that noise in here?” I ran into her arms for a hug and told her of my good news.
“You know what I think?” she asked.
“What?” I asked back.
“I think that deserves a Coke,” she answered.
“Yeah!” I shouted as I ran out to the garage to get a bottle of the good stuff. Granddad and Dad followed me out to grab a beer before they headed outside to sit on the patio.
Back in the kitchen, Grandma filled a glass with ice and opened the bottle for me as I jumped up onto a stool at the kitchen counter. She sat the glass in front of me and emptied into it most of the bottle’s contents before setting the bottle in front of me. I gave her a look of confusion.
Grandma leaned in close and said, “Don’t tell anyone, but I think you deserve this whole bottle to yourself.”
“Oh, boy!” I said. Up to now any bottle of Coke I had had to be shared with Susie. Now I was getting a whole bottle of my own.
This was the sweetest glass of Coke I had ever tasted.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Next: New Year, New Look