Jack Bauer

I don’t know when I was introduced to baseball by my parents. I’m sure my dad started as soon as possible, so I alawys remember being around it. The earliest games I can recall would be the ones with my classmates I still go to school with today. We were in pre-school or kindergarten, and we were coached by Keaton’s dad, Knial *****. I remember we played at the Cooper Sports Complex and sometimes the Boys and Girls Club. Coach *****would always be on one knee and would underhand lob the ball. Every game I’ve played from the age of 6 or 7 when I had that solid contact hit, I felt like I absolutely crushed the ball. Looking back though, that ball probably would have barely gotten out of the infield.

             In baseball, I had never been above average in terms of skill, but I still had this feeling that the sport was for me. Baseball is truly a thinking man’s game. In a broad perspective, it’s like chess, but with physical activity. Every coach I’ve ever had has said that the game is ten percent physical and ninety percent mental. That statistic especially held true for me. I am a player that is labeled in baseball terms a head case, meaning I over think just about everything I do. This mental curse follows me everywhere on the field. Even back in second grade I can remember panicking every time I walked up to the plate. I kept saying to myself that I couldn’t let my teammates down. Sadly enough, I usually did. But my teammates were not only that, they were my friends at school. They never got upset with me if I struck out, but I would get upset thinking that I had somehow disappointed them. I think that that was the reason that they would never get frustrated; they could always see the shame in my eyes.

            But lucky for me, hitting wasn’t the only part of baseball. In my youth it was hitting, then standing in the outfield over and over. But in fourth grade, a completely new and foreign part of baseball was introduced, and the whole team was giddy with excitement. I am of course talking about pitching.

            I can remember the first time I pitched in a game very well. I remember when my dad heard that we would start pitching, his face lit up. It seemed he was convinced this was my destiny in baseball. After all, the only fielding options for a lefty are pitcher, first base, or outfield. I had always been stuck in the outfield because of my lack of coordination. But I wasn’t like the other left-over kids that were usually stuck out there with me. I didn’t sit and pick grass; I was always ready for that ball. Maybe it was my dad who gave me that mindset. But I had always felt trapped in a body that refused to be athletic. That is, until now. The nine year old version of me stepped up to the mound. My heart raced with alternating beats of excitement and anxiety. I put my left parallel to the rubber, throwing from the stretch position. Then I kicked my leg up and tried to everything Coach *****, and my dad, taught me (they always contradicted each other too). The ball released from my hand and my jaw dropped. It went right past the catcher and hit the fence without even coming close to the plate.

            From fifth grade to seventh grade, my frustration with the sport grew. At thirteen I had convinced myself that I was only playing because my dad was making me. When spring and summer roller around, I would dread having to play the stupid game. I had also stopped pitching. I just never got better than my first time. Now I was again in the cycle of hitting then going back to the outfield.

            We also moved toward Strafford Sports Complex, which heightened my grumpiness. The grass was patchy and lumpy and mosquitoes were everywhere in the outfield. I had frequent discussions with my dad about quitting. When he would be tell just hang in there, I was angry. But now, I am forever grateful to him for that.

            But I did quit after that season. As my eighth grade Spring season came, I was happy to just lift weights for football and watch TV. One day I remember sitting at home when I got a phone call. My mom informed me that my former team was short a few players and needed an extra man for just one game. At first I said no, but my mom assured it would just be one game. I reluctantly agreed and grabbed my brother’s old high school uniform idling in his old closet. We were technically freshmen now, so I couldn’t wear our old t-shirts. I remember wearing the jersey felt good. I’d always watch the high school team with such admiration, and now I felt like I was a part of it. The last time the jersey was worn was when my brother, Kevin, was the starting pitcher for the state finals four years ago. What I remembered most about that game was the team losing. Everyone was crushed and heartbroken. A few cried. My brother was utterly speechless for about two weeks.

            My mom arrived at the house and I was waiting on the couch. We soon left for the game, and I couldn’t help but to feel excited. I would get to play on the sacred Springfield Catholic High School baseball field for my farewell game.

            When I got there, the game was already in the first inning. I walked in the dugout to meet my coach, Matt *****. The man was four inches shorter than me but was built like a tank. His arms were literally the size of milk jugs. He seemed very scary at first, but he was pretty nice and turned out to be one of my better coaches. My friends were also there to give me a warm greeting.

            As we progressed through the game, I found myself laughing and having a good time. It seemed strange at first to actually be having fun at a game. But then I realized that this was how baseball was supposed to be. When it ended I quickly told my parents that I wanted to play the whole season.

            The rest of that season was the best one I’d had yet. I had timeless experiences and stories that always make it a good memory. The end of summer meant goodbye to the best coach I’d ever had up to that point. It was also meant the end of carefree grade school baseball and the beginning of high school ball.

            Preseason started when there was still snow on the ground. We would lift weights and do other workouts in the high school cafeteria. I was the only freshman there, and I was terrified. The first time we started throwing, I, of course, had no partner. Luckily, a senior invited me to throw with him and his partner. It seemed nice of him at first, but I soon discovered that he threw a fastball literally ninety miles per hour. I had never been more afraid of a baseball. From that bewildering experience though, I learned a lesson that I still use at the plate today: at least I am not batting against Tyler *****.

            The regular season of freshman baseball went well. Our coach was a tiny guy, five feet seven inches tall, but he was the angriest person I had ever met. Nevertheless, it was still a great year. Our summer season was even better than the one before, too. We had two coaches, Overstreet and Luebbert. Overstreet (we just called him Street) was probably the jolliest coach I’d ever had. He would always be messing with the players on the team and doing anything he could to make the long summer season more enjoyable. Our other coach, Luebbert (we called him Lube) seemed more interested in the girls his age in the stands than the actual game.

            During the season, we developed several ridiculous superstitions that we still use today. When the weather was overcast, a drawing of a turtle with the knob of a bat in front of the dugout was made. This “rain-turtle” prevented rainfall, unless stepped on. Before every game we would also spit on an old helmet, named Michelangelo, for good luck.

            The season was a great one, but I still struggled with my hitting. The constant frustration in the back of my mind was starting to resurface. But at the end of the season, another window opened. It was something I longed for but had never been able to achieve. I was going to be a pitcher.

            I don’t remember how I got the opportunity to throw in a game, but I did, and I didn’t do half bad, either. Maybe it was all the pitching I did at practice when everyone else was taking pop flies or hitting. But I built on that decent game appearance and got to be pitching in more and more games until the season was over.

            The next season, pitching was all I thought about. During warm-ups at practice, I was constantly going through the mechanics and throwing in the bullpen whenever possible. It felt good to be working so hard at something I had a passion for. But focusing my efforts on just one thing caused me to digress in other fundamentals like hitting and fielding. It was also taking longer than I thought to start pitching in games, too.

            The beginning of the year was turning to be bumpier than expected, too. My hitting and fielding worsened, and I wasn’t getting noticed on my pitching yet. In the player evaluation, the head coach told me I’d be seeing most of my playing time with the freshmen since they didn’t have a full team. I was furious and wanted to quit once again. Pitching was the only thing keeping from doing it. I still had that mad hope that I could actually succeed in one aspect of this sport.

            So I kept at it. Practice became just a loose gathering of underclassmen since the varsity was always gone, so I took advantage of that. I never left the bullpen; I just threw at a target to the point of exhaustion. I had to practically beg my tiny, angry coach to let me pitch for freshmen. Finally I got the opportunity.

            I had no idea the coach was going to start me. When he gave me the news in the Hillcrest dugout that I would be starting, I didn’t tell him how sore my arm was from throwing all day the previous day. I knew that there was a chance I could mess up my arm, but if I didn’t throw that day I would never know when my next opportunity would be. So I took the chance. I could hardly throw during warm-ups with the pain in my shoulder. So I took three off-brand pain killers and hoped for the best. My work had paid off. Finally. The first three innings I was able to throw fairly hard. After that, though, my arm was beginning to quit on me. The fourth inning, my velocity had dropped substantially. My arm was so tired even though I couldn’t feel the pain yet. During this inning I accidentally invented a pitch that would be a future weapon in my arsenal- the super slow-mo. Because of my exhaustion, the ball was barely getting past the plate. It initially looked like a pitch thrown at batting practice that is every hitter’s dream to see in a game. But at the last second, the pitch would sharply drop when it reached the plate. It was effective, comical, and made the hitter’s feel very stupid. In the fifth inning, I was done and ready to be taken out of the game. The coach did so and I sat on the bench for the rest of it. Being me, I was a little angry at the performance I’d given. I had just expected more from the work I put into it. The JV coach approached me after the game and said I did a good job. Though I was no less angry about how I did, I knew I had a future in pitching.

             Throughout the rest, I got to throw a lot more. Not just with the freshman, but now the JV. Like anyone, I had my good days and my bad days, but I was still getting consistently better. Towards the end of the season I even struck out a few people from a junior college in our Omaha tournament (with a partial thanks to the super slow-mo). That particular game lasted forty five minutes, and the score was twenty one to zero. We got creamed, but no one was bothered by it. We didn’t mind losing to a bunch of eighteen year old kids in a tournament that was way out of our league.

            That season continued to build my undying love for the game that I have now. My hitting never really improved and I wasn’t even close to being the pitcher my brother was, but I could do nothing but admire my teammates and the sport itself.

            Baseball’s a complex game. Its call for mental endurance often draws many people away from it. But it’s called America’s pastime for a good reason- it’s a thinking man’s game. It’s like chess that requires physical finesse to move a piece where you want it to go. Hours upon hours are spent perfecting the seemingly easy tasks of hitting, fielding, and throwing. But perhaps the best thing about baseball is that perfection cannot be reached.

            My last season to date pretty much ended after Omaha. We all left ready for the off season, but eager to play again. Only time will tell if I’ll ever be a great pitcher. But as I write this in the middle of January, I can’t help feeling anything but optimism for the next season.

Published on January 5, 2009 at 3:04 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. great story. well written and fun to read. one suggestion would be to add a stronger ending to your story and make sure that it totally wraps up the ending. but otherwise- good work!

  2. I enjoyed this story a lot because when you thought the exciting part had happened something else came along that added a new wave of emotion. I would read over and watch out for spelling errors along with some grammatical errors. All in all, good story.

  3. Really good story. It was very detailed and a great read. There were some parts that I found myself skimming over, just repetition, but that’s not a big issue as I enjoyed reading the story. Well written, and I think the ending worked well.

  4. This was a really good story. It was easy to read, and the way you related baseball to chess was unique.. and very true. You did have a few words missing from some of the sentences, but besides that it was a great story.

  5. I “bleeped out” some last names that seemed related to local young people. Just to be on the safe side. Nice story!

  6. i really liked this story, especially being a player myself. it really showed your passion for the game. one thing is to work on the ending, make it more of an “ending”
    otherwise great story

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