I have always believed that baseball was truly deserving of the title “America’s Sport”. As a young child I lived and breathed for opportunities to do baseball related activities. I loved going to the local evening games when dusk slowly faded into darkness and the chirping of the crickets competed with the tinny, pinched sound of foul balls ricocheting off aluminum bats. I was enthralled every time my mother would pull my VHS copy of The Sandlot out of its tattered sleeve and allow me to eagerly push it into the VCR. I coveted every possible version of baseball card that was packed into the shelves of the nearby supermarket. Most of all, though, I craved the opportunity to pull on my long striped socks, lace up my cleats and run onto the field ready to save the day with a clutch home run or a gallant, diving catch in the outfield.
Those dreams of late game heroics however almost always, like a center fielder painfully slamming into the fence in vain pursuit of an errant ball, crashed hard when reality set in. Born with severe hearing loss, poor eyesight, and horribly flat feet, I inevitably would limp home after games, nursing my tattered expectations. My loving parents would build up what little victories could be found from my performance of that night, but I still knew the truth. I could see the noticeable sag in my teammates’ shoulders when I came up to bat in the late innings and we were savagely trying to scrape out a victory. As a young kid, it was incredibly hard as I began to realize that maybe I wasn’t destined to be the next great legend on some professional team, living and playing thousands of miles away from my Midwest beginnings. Despite the inklings of disillusionment slowly becoming looming waves of doubt, I kept playing every summer, waiting for some kind of personal miracle.
That baseball miracle came in the middle of the summer when I was 12. It had been the typical type of year, lots of time out in left field fighting off hungry mosquitoes and the urge to visit the concession stand between innings. After one particularly difficult game, my coach pulled me aside. That night he told me one of the most compassionate things I would ever hear, “Son, I decided you are going to get to be one of the two players from our team that will play in the little league all-star game.” Instantly, my mind went blank. Could this be possible? There was no way! The only skill I had perfected was not swinging at balls so I could get on base via a walk. It was clearly my baseball miracle and I didn't care if I wouldn't fit in with the other superior athletes in that game. For one night I would be on the same stage as the 30 best players in my town. I was an all-star!
I still remember the night of the all-star game like it just occurred. Even as so many other life experiences rush by on a freeway of memories, that night stands still. It was a sticky night in mid-July and the moment I stepped out of my parent’s vehicle I could hardly breathe, either because of the heavy humidity or possibly the crushing weight of my anticipation. My heart pounding 100 miles per hour, I jogged over to my team for the night and surveyed my teammates. What a proud looking group of athletes crisply tossing balls back and forth, confidently preparing for the biggest game of the summer. I swallowed hard and once again tried to straighten my ever crooked hat and anxiously checked to make sure my glasses strap was tight and my hearing aids were snuggled firmly in my ears. I felt sick to the stomach as I chased down warm-up fly balls. What in the world was I doing here? I knew I didn't belong but at the same time I knew this was a once in a lifetime chance at baseball glory.
The first two innings I sat at the end of the bench. It was clear from the start that our team was vastly outmatched by our opponent’s top player, a burly slugger who also happened to throw a wicked fastball. By the end of the second inning, we were down four runs and had yet to put anyone on base. Suddenly, our coach whirled around in his coach’s box and yelled out my name in a hoarse manner that reminded me of someone choking down sand paper. “Time for you to start us off, we need to get going.” I looked at him in disbelief, but picked up my favorite bat and trudged off to the plate. It seemed like their menacing pitcher was only 10 feet away and sneering at his next and easiest victim of the night. I dug deep into the soft dirt of the batter’s box and prepared for the worst. He wound up and hurled a dagger towards the catcher’s mitt. For a brief second, all my fear dissipated and everything slowed down. My eyes narrowed as they focused on the ball and suddenly the ball was jumping off my bat deep into center field. By the time I realized what had just happened, my legs had carried me to 2nd base on the longest hit of my little league career! It was a glorious moment for me; an instant when I realized that despite all my disadvantages physically, with belief and endurance anything was still possible for me. Even though we ended up losing by 13 runs that night and I made lots of mistakes, I was still floating in the air for weeks afterwards. Even to this day, when I feel like I am out of my league in a situation, I take a moment to reflect on the time I was a little league all-star, and held my own.