August 23, 2019

This One is Different

August 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

joe_and_sam_sepia

Excerpt from my manuscript, “Between the Lines: A Father, A Son, and America’s Pastime”

There’s no feeling in baseball, maybe not in any sport, like the feeling of hitting a home run. As an oversized kid playing on an undersized Little League field I was lucky to learn that at a young age. No matter how many you hit, the feeling is the same. Each one is special.

Every time, in that instant when the ball disappears beyond the fence, I’m almost startled. My heart leaps in my chest and there is an uncontrollable leap in my next step. The anxious expression turns immediately into a huge smile, all in that instant.

As soon as I hear the crack of the bat I’m sure this is a good one. It is. It isn’t especially high like some of them; it’s a hard line drive toward right center field. It’s a shot, and it just keeps going. I’ve always watched the long balls, even when my coach was yelling for me to run. When I realize this one has a chance, I clinch my fist and yell at the ball through gritted teeth, “Get over!”

I watch the outfielders pull up because they’re out of room, or they just gave up on it. I’m startled the instant the ball just disappears. My heart leaps in my chest, just like it has every home run I’ve ever hit. There was no rattle of the ball colliding with the chain link fence or thud as it crashes into one of the advertising banners; no pop of the ball hitting the ground just short of the fence. My anxious look again gives way to a huge smile. It’s gone.

They’re all special, but this one is different. This time, instead of dropping the bat and trotting down the first base line, I’m squatting down in front of the dugout fence, watching with my fellow coaches. This time it’s not me who just blasted that line drive shot over the right center field fence, it’s Sam, and I get to watch my son trot around the bases with that huge smile; for the first time.

Coach Randy is on one knee next to me. A huge smile breaks out on his face and he gets out of my way as I jump up; actually it was that spontaneous leap. I pump my fist and unashamedly yell, “Yeah!” as loud as I can. Randy’s son, Ian, and Sam are buddies. They’ve played on the same team many seasons; with Randy and me as their coaches. Ian is a banger and has hit a lot of home runs. Sam is always happy for Ian. He claps, smiles big and is always there to high five Ian as he steps on home plate. As Ian is mobbed by the rest of his teammates I can always tell by the look on his face that he wonders what that feels like; he longs to find out for himself. I remind him that his pitching arm is his contribution to the team. Every run you keep off the board is like hitting a solo home run, I’ll tell him. Let Ian hit the home runs; just try to be on base when he does. But we had both wished silently and to each other that just maybe he’d poke one out this season, and this is final tournament of the year. I thought maybe we’d see a weaker pitcher who would serve one up for him. But we actually didn’t; the little lefty on the mound was bringin’ it. He shut down the top of our lineup in the first inning. Down 5-0, Sam’s solo was our first run in a come from behind 12-8 victory.

Early on Randy assumed the responsibility of retrieving bats after every hitter. This time he waits back, he allows me to get this one. I pick up the bat and walk to the plate and wait for Sam to arrive. His huge grin has lasted all the way around the bases. Mine too. Since Sam began playing tee ball I’ve wondered how he’d conduct himself after his first home run; I talked to him about good sportsmanship and hoped he would round the bases without the excessive celebration that Baseball shuns. At this moment I couldn’t be more proud. He was a perfect gentleman. I also wondered how I would react. As I stand at home plate watching him trot down the third base line I say to myself, “Just don’t cry, just don’t cry…oh hell, go ahead and cry…a little bit.” I reach out and shake his hand. I put my arm around his shoulders and we walk back to the dugout.

Cole’s dad, Tom, quickly fetches the ball. He brings it to me in the dugout. Cole has hit his share of home runs too, so Tom knows it’s customary to give home run balls to the player, at least it is at our home league. I look at the ball, rub it down real good, and walk it out to Cathy in the bleachers. “I’m not sure what the policy is here, but we’re keeping this one.” This one is different.

That ball is now perched on his trophy shelf. On it in Sam’s writing is…
First Home Run
‘Bolts V Ky Heat
8/3/13

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