The Early Bird May Catch the Worm, but It's Never Too Late to Get into the Game
Phoenix Crucillo, 12
It was the day our baseball team had worked so hard for—the Little League Championship Game. Over the last four months, twenty teams had competed vigorously to earn one of two coveted spots for the championship game. And I was on one of those teams — the Braves!
It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and our team was down by one run with two outs and the bases loaded. It was now my turn to bat. The sun scorched its hot rays down my back. My thick mask itched, and I longed to rub my nose on one of the long sleeves I wore underneath my jersey. Still, none of these irritations came close to the unease I felt as I walked up to the plate.
I took a deep breath before crouching into my batting stance. My heart pounded through my chest. After studying the catcher’s signs carefully, the pitcher nodded in acknowledgement of their secret language. Just then, the pitcher adjusted his grip on the seams, lifted his front leg, and released the ball....
If someone had told me four months earlier that I’d be playing in the championship, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’d never played baseball before. It all started one seemingly ordinary day....
After a long day of school, I waited for my mom to pick me up. All the other kids had already gone.
“Um, should I call my mom?” I asked my teacher.
“If you feel the need,” he smirked. Just then, she pulled up. I stuffed my belongings in the car, eager to go home and relax with my favorite video game before tackling my homework. Just as I was getting comfortable, she spoke the words that would change my life.
“I signed you up for a baseball team,” she said nonchalantly. “Your soccer season doesn’t start until spring, so I thought you might enjoy another sport in the meantime.”
“But Mom, I don’t want to go! Kids in that league have been playing their whole lives! It’s not a place for beginners like me! It’s too hard to start playing a new sport like this. Like you always say, ‘the early bird catches the worm,’ so starting baseball at twelve years old will make me the early worm... who’ll get eaten!”
She chuckled and just kept driving to the baseball field. I knew it was useless to protest, so I surrendered to my fate.
As we pulled up to the field, I saw something that shocked me like a horror movie. The players were warming up on a massively daunting field, talking and laughing as if they’d known each other all their lives. Oh no, they already know each other. Now I’m never going to make friends. And this field is so gigantic! How am I ever going to play on this?!
“Alright!” yelled the coach in a southern accent. “Let’s all sit down in a circle and introduce ourselves.”
“I’m Phoenix,” I said meekly.
No one else needed an introduction. They all knew each other. Just as I thought.
Time for fielding practice. I didn’t even know what that was, but I followed along.
“Alright. The drill is simple. Get the ground ball I hit to you and throw to first base. Once you’re done, get back in line and wait until it’s your turn again,” Coach instructed.
Like a chameleon, I stood in the middle of the line in a feeble attempt not to stand out as a beginner. The first player fielded the ball flawlessly and threw it like a dart to the first baseman.
Each of my teammates fielded Coach’s hits with precision. Obviously, they had been playing this game for many years.
Now it was my turn. I tried to pick up the ball that Coach hit my way, but I completely failed. “Coach, may I have another one?” I yelled so he could hear.
“Sure thing,” he said as he hit a ground ball softer off his wood bat. I picked it up, almost stumbling, and threw it too far to the right of the first baseman.
Oh, no! I’ll never make it!
“Hey, are you new?” one of the bigger kids asked me.
“Oh, that’s why,” he mumbled to himself.
My heart sank.
“Okay now, next are fly balls. So go into the outfield and wait,” Coach instructed.
Within minutes, a fly ball came soaring straight at me. Oh, no! Could this day get any worse? There’s no way I’m going to catch this, I thought as I raised my open glove into the air.
Thud! I looked into my glove, where, to my astonishment, I saw the ball tucked away in the supple brown leather. Yeeeessss! Maybe I’m not so terrible after all.
“Team, meet our new outfielder!” Coach proclaimed enthusiastically. His words magically erased my teammate’s earlier comment.
A few weeks later, it was time for our first game. I felt so unprepared.
Mom dropped me off at the batting cages, where I watched each of my teammates hit every ball pitched to them. Now, it was my turn. As hard as I focused, the pitches roared past me. There was something about these pitches that made them impossible to connect with. I felt lucky to hit a couple of balls.
“Okay, that’s enough warm-up. It’s game time,” Coach yelled.
One by one, we eagerly entered the dugout like a line of army ants ready for duty. Suddenly, Coach called out the batting lineup. My cheeks burned with embarrassment, and I suddenly broke out into a cold sweat when he called my name last.
“Why am I last?” I asked.
“I put you last because this is your first game. The other kids have more experience.”
I listened, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the ground where they were glued in utter embarrassment.
I saw teammate after teammate strike out, ground out, and fly out. When it was finally my turn to bat, I felt like it was my first day at a new school. The pitcher delivered a fastball right down the middle that was so fast I could hear the laces spinning.
“STRIKE ONE!” the umpire hollered for the entire world to hear. Don’t rub it in, Ump, I thought to myself.
The pitcher delivered another fastball that was way off, but I still swung. Since I was nervous, I could only imagine it had to have looked like I had just woken up from a long nap.
“WOOHOO!!!!” the opposite team’s crowd cheered.
“Make him strike out!” a parent yelled.
“Trick him!” another yelled.
I no longer cared what anyone had to say. Now was my chance.
The pitcher threw a curveball, and I swung as hard as I could. I hit a line drive past the second baseman! As I raced to first base, my heart soared. After the inning was over, everyone, including Coach, congratulated me on my very first little league hit that started my journey to the championship game.
This would be the first of many hits in the most amazing four months of my life. With every game, and every hit, came feelings of pure joy as well as the feeling of devastation of letting my teammates down when I’d strike out or miss a play. Although it was amazing to make it to the championship during my very first season, the best part was realizing that, while the early bird usually catches the worm, it’s never too late to get into the game.
This narrative was originally submitted as part of our July Flash Contest. Although we couldn't accept it as a part of the Flash Contest due to it not being fictional, we loved it so much we just had to publish it!