The sun beat down mercilessly on my sweaty neck. My shoulders ached. I was tired and my mouth was as dry as the Sahara. Bases were loaded. Three balls, two strikes, pressure on. I adjusted my baseball cap as I stepped carefully onto the dusty mound, fingering the ball in my right hand.
Change-up, I thought. I stepped back in my windup. The ball shot out of my hand, bouncing right before the plate. The batter didn’t swing.
“Ball four!” The batter set his bat down by the fence and took a base, advancing his teammates. I watched helplessly as the third-base runner happily jogged home. My team groaned.
Coach called time out and jogged over to where I stood, defeated on the mound. I knew at once I was being replaced. I had just walked a batter home, but what I got instead surprised me. “You’re doing good, son, keep it up,” Coach said, slapping me hard on the back.
“It’s so hot,” I complained in reply, wiping the beads of sweat from my forehead.
Coach knelt so we were face to face and stared at me with his wise, chocolatey-brown eyes. “It’s baseball.” With that, he headed back to the shade of the dugout, nodding to the umpire to begin the game again. “Play ball!”
The batter stepped up to the plate, ready to jump out of the way of a bad pitch. I felt the ball in my sweaty palm. It’s baseball. I pulled my arm back like a slingshot and launched the ball. Whack! It slammed into the catcher’s leather mitt. The batter flinched but didn’t swing.
* * *
Thwack! My younger brother, in a third attempt to hit the ball, knocked over the black rubber tee it rested on instead.
“Darn it!” he exclaimed in frustration.
“Don’t worry,” I said, acting as his coach. “Try again.”
He mumbled something under his breath but did as he was told. Dull gray light crept through the thick fog that hung over the field. Crisp, early morning air stung my lungs and a soft breeze rustled my sandy hair. A crow danced around on the deserted bleachers, looking for scraps. Me and my younger brother, Julian, had been at the field since seven a.m., almost two hours. Julian was new to baseball and hadn’t adapted to the hard work and discipline it takes to become a quality player. That, and he’s eight years old. Finally, he successfully hit the ball off the tee and it landed at my feet with a thud. I picked it up out of the dust and nodded with approval.
“Not bad. Do it again.”
Julian crossed his arms over his maroon Harvard hoodie and groaned in protest, “This is so hard!” He stretched out the words as if they were silly putty.
I looked him up and down, remembering Coach’s words. “No,” I said knowingly. “It’s baseball."