Story time, episode 3, let’s cook. Although the first two stories were seemingly sad and made you want to rip your heart out after reading it, this story is a triumphant one and is a story where a legend was born. A legend that loved playing ball and would give an arm and a leg to bring home a W to the dinner table at the end of the night. A legend who put an entire city, no scratch that, an entire nation on his back, doing it all without a single complaint. Because as they say, heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Let’s set the scene.
This story takes us back to Nottingham Little League, a place where I grew up and spent many summer nights, playing the game I love. The year was 2012. I was a 12-year-old playing in my final year of LL baseball. I was now a seasoned veteran in the “Majors” and was excited to finish off my LL career in style. I came into the season as the starting third basemen. I had a glove like Machado and an arm like Arenado, not to brag though. During a particular game during the season, I remember my coach telling me I would be starting the game in right field. My first reaction was anything but excitement. I stated to my coach that only the suckey kids play RF so it makes no sense that I would be playing that position (I thought I was Henry hot-shot.) The coach explained to me that the pitcher that would take the hill for us that day was a righty that had a tendency to hang pitches outside, giving the batter an opportunity to drive the ball to RF. He would need a reliable glove and my nickname in LL was Mr. Reliable so it only made sense. I sucked up my pride and decided that I would be the best damn outfielder Nottingham Little League has ever seen. Oh, I forgot to mention that this was not an average regular season game. If my team were to win, we would clinch a playoff spot and if we were to lose, we would have to pack up our bags and call it a season. This was a big time game and it was time for a big time player like myself to step up. As I took my position feeling like Hank Aaron, the lack of attention in the early innings quickly became frustrating. At the hot corner, you are constantly in the action and have to be attentive at all times. In little league, you could take a nap in RF, wake up in the third inning and not miss a beat. As 4 innings passed by, the score remained at a 0 to 0 stalemate and both teams were refusing to give an inch. This one was going to go down to the wire and would be decided on one or two big plays.
In the top of the fifth, I knew that I had to make an impact because I was not getting any action in the field, I decided to take matters in to my own hands and make an impact with my bat. I was the fifth guy due up in the inning and by the way the game was going, was not expected to hit until the sixth. After the first two batters were retired down on strikes, the lineup was turned over and it was time for the stars to shine. Our leadoff hitter, who probably had a .988 OBP that season, kept the inning alive with an IF single. Our 2 hole hitter hit a sharp single to center to put a runner in scoring position and to continue the 2-out rally. It was than time for yours truly to step into the box and take his cuts. Quick back story, when I was 12 and really, when I was in Little League as a hole, I thought I was a Major League Baseball player. I would pull my pant legs up, wear eye black and rock shades on my cap during a night game because well, I could. Every single AB, I would walk to the batters box “waving” to my fans when in reality, nobody really cared. I would dig my foot into the front side on the batters box, spit on my gloves like Big Papi, point on my chest, followed by a point to god, hold my hand out to the ump calling for time, and would than proceed to aim my bat to the OF, signifying a HR forthcoming. Looking back at it, I was a total fool but at the time, I felt like a total bad ass. This theatrical display would sometimes annoy the opposing pitcher and I can remember countless times, where I would be brushed back. Anyway, this specific at bat was crucial, I had the chance to put my team ahead and send them to the playoffs. After taking two first pitch fastballs out of the zone, I was presented with a hitters count and I knew what was coming, the big hook. This particular pitcher did not have the best offspeed stuff, but could he hook a curveball and if you sat on it, you could drive it a long way. The second the 2-0 pitch left his hand, I knew it was a curve and boy was it juicy. I stayed back on the ball, and exploded my barrel through the zone at the perfect time. The ball was roped to the LF fence and I was standing on second, with a 1-0 lead in my back pocket. Unfortunately for us, we failed to score anymore runs and after an uneventful bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth we were headed to the last half inning of the game, clinging to a 1 run lead. We were three outs away from going to the playoffs and cementing our legacy.
In the bottom of the 6th, we brought in our closer, a kid we called the red-headed rocket. The 12-year-old threw absolute gas and had not blown a save the entire season. He was the LL Aroldis Chapman. The RH Rocket struck out the first two batters in the blink of an eye and I thought we had this one in the bag and began to talk to cute girls on the RF fence saying, “Hey ladies, I pretty much won us this game.” This cocky attitude was quickly turned into a fearful focus and somehow, the opposing team scratched back to back singles and had the winning run on first base. Due up for them was their 9 hitter and again, I made my way back to the cheering section to chat it up and sign autographs. The RH Rocket had obviously lost his touch because the first two pitches of the AB were way out of the zone, and went 20 feet behind the catcher. I knew that this next pitch would most likely be put in play, as the RH Rocket would have to test him and give him something to hit. As he threw a fastball just a hair outside I can remember hearing the sound of the bat make contact with the ball and looking up, much to my chagrin, the ball looked like it was headed over my head and quite frankly, looked like it had enough to creep over the fence. Instinctually, my first step was back, which gave me a good range on the ball. As I ranged back, trying to get under the ball, the ball refused to dip and seemingly hung in the air. I took one quick peek behind me and saw the fence about 10 feet away from me. The ball was starting to come down and I knew that the only way that I was going to catch this ball, was if I jumped. As I tried to time the jump in correlation of the ball reaching my glove, I can remember a feeling come over me, as if a voice inside of me said “This is it. It is now or never.” As I jumped, I quickly slammed my back against the fence which yes, hurt like a bitch. At the same time, I had reached my glove far enough over the fence where I would at least have a chance to bring it back. The ball hit the pocket of my glove and I remember bringing my glove quickly back into the field of play, as my back started to reform after being demolished by the metal fence. In what seemed like an hour, my feet had finally hit the ground and as I looked into my glove, the ball was placed perfectly in it. This game was over. We were headed to the playoffs in dramatic fashion and as I was running into the infield to celebrate, I was in a state of shock, as I could not wrap my head around or believe what just happened.
Our team went onto the playoffs, only to get knocked out early, but that season will never be forgotten. To this day, that is the most athletic play I have ever made in my life and if you asked me how I did it, I would not be able to come up with a logical answer. But hey, sometimes miracles really do come true.