OUR CINDERELLA RUN: PART TWO
© 2015, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
OUR CINDERELLA RUN: PART TWO
Dad promised me he would be at the game on Monday.
“Geddy, I told you I’d come to the playoff games. That’s when it all really starts to happen. I meant to be there on Wednesday, but my boss called a meeting at the last minute. I had to be there.”
I didn’t say anything.
I had gotten used to Dad’s not coming to the games during the regular season, so it was no big deal to me that he hadn’t shown up for the first game against the Lumberjacks.
That’s what I told myself. And I guess it was true, except that the other fathers and mothers were there and it was just me, among all the players, who didn’t have a parent at the game.
Monday morning, before he left for work, Dad said, “You go to the game with Chipper and his father. I’m coming straight from work. I’ll meet you there.”
When we finished our pre-game warm-up, Ned read out the batting lineup.
“I’ve made a couple of changes. Archie, you’re going to hit third instead of fifth. Geddy, you’re batting cleanup. Mack, you move into the fifth slot.”
I flushed red. I had never batted cleanup before. I was no slugger. I had hit only one home run all season and that was because of my speed. I had had to slide home and had barely beaten the throw.
I went to Ned with a question in my eyes.
“Mr. Sinclair, uh . . . Ned, why? Why are you making this switch this evening?” I asked. “It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s our whole season.”
“Mack sometimes strikes out. You don’t. You protect the plate and hit for average. I want you to advance runners and bring them home when they’re on base. That’s why. You can do it, Geddy.” Then he put his hands on my shoulders and repeated, “Geddy, you can do it.”
I was thinking, “Man, I hope I don’t let the team down.”
Then it was game time. The umpire called, “Play ball!”
I looked in the direction of the parking lot. Nothing. Dad hadn’t arrived yet.
Chipper led off the game with a base on balls. We felt lucky. Big Al hardly ever walked anyone. Then Jackie dragged a bunt along the third base line for a single. Chipper sprinted around second and slid safe into third on the throw back from the first baseman.
We had runners on first and second with nobody out!
Then Archie laced a line drive between third and short and was robbed when the shortstop dived to his right and made the catch. I was next. It was my turn to bat.
Big Al smiled at me and tipped his cap. I tipped my cap back at him.
Before the game, we had talked behind the backstop back of home plate in the no-man’s land between our teams’ benches. I suppose we looked a bit like Mutt and Jeff the way he towered over me.
“You know I gotta try to strike you out, Geddy.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And you know I gotta try to hit a homer off of you.”
We both knew Big Al had never struck me out and I had never hit a homer off of him.
“Good luck, Al,” I said. “You, too, Geddy. Have a good game.”
Then we shook hands and touched gloves and trotted back to our teammates.
And now we were facing each other for the first time in the game.
Ned had given me the hit away sign and I was ready to swing at the first pitch. I knew Big Al usually came in with a strike on the first pitch and he knew I usually liked to let the first pitch go by.
“So what’s it going to be, Al,” I was thinking. “Are you going to come in when I know you’re going to come in? Or are you going to throw the first pitch out of the strike zone, thinking I’m going to cross you up and swing at the first pitch?”
I decided he wasn’t going to take the chance of wasting a pitch. He was going to throw me his high hard strike.
I got set. He kicked his leg high and then dipped down and released the ball from just off the ground. As it zipped toward the plate, the ball rose and spun toward the outside corner. It was a beautiful pitch.
And I nailed it.
I saw it rocketing into right center field and was running hard. Half way to first base, I saw the ball land between the fielders and start skipping along the hard ground of the outfield.
“It’s going to roll forever,” I thought as I rounded first and sprinted for second.
Everyone was screaming. Chipper had waited to see the ball wasn’t caught on the fly and then he trotted home. Jackie had seen the ball was going to drop in and was running all the way. He crossed the plate right behind Chipper.
Just before making the turn at second base, I saw the fielders were still chasing the ball. I figured I could score and ran harder. When I looked up at Ned jumping up and down in the third base coaching box and waving me home, I knew I was going to score, but I didn’t let up. I ran as fast as I could and scored standing up.
“Didn’t have to slide this time,” I thought as I crossed home plate and was mobbed by my teammates.
We were up, 3-0!
Mack was up next.
But before Mack took his place in the batter’s box, Jackie came running up to me, all excited and pointing in the direction of the parking lot.
“Your father’s here,” he shouted. “I saw him over there.”
I looked up and there he was. Dad was walking toward the bleachers on our side of the field. Archie was running toward him, jumping up and down. He was shouting and yelping and everyone on our side of the field could hear what he was saying.
“Mr. Mason! Mr. Mason! Geddy just hit a three-run homer. You shoulda seen it. It was way out there. We’re ahead three-nothing!”
Dad just laughed and teased, “Yeah, I could see him running home from the parking lot. But it musta been a single and a three-base error. Geddy doesn’t hit home runs.”
I ran toward him and said, “Hi, Dad. Ned put me cleanup.”
“Cleanup, eh. Nice going, Geddy.”
That’s all he said, but I could tell he was pleased and proud of me because he just kept on smiling.
Mack struck out and I thought, “Wow! Ned sure is smart. He knows his players.”
Wally followed and popped up to the first baseman. The top half of the first inning was over.
Ned gathered us around before we took the field for the bottom of the inning. “Now, listen, boys. That’s a good start, but it’s early and we’ve got a long way to go. Keep your heads in the game. Stay focused.”
Ned was right. The game was far from over. The Lumberjacks showed us right away they had lots of fight in them. They loaded the bases with nobody out and then scored two runs on Big Al’s cleanup double.
Wally settled down then, but the Lumberjacks scored two more runs on a sacrifice fly and a ground out before we managed to get the third out and get out of the inning.
The score was 4-3 for Jane Street Lumber after one inning. It looked like the game was going to be a slugfest.
But if there is anything predictable about softball, especially at the peewee level, it is that it is unpredictable.
Both Wally and Big Al dominated the hitters throughout the second, third, fourth and fifth innings and neither team scored.
In the sixth, Big Al shut us down for the fifth straight inning, but the Lumberjacks put across a single run to lead 5-3 going into the seventh and final frame.
Our ninth and weakest hitter, Marv Reisman, was coming up. Marv hadn’t had a hit or reached base against Big Al in the previous game or in this one.
Things looked pretty bleak for us. But our luck hadn’t run out yet.
On a swinging third strike, the ball got away from the catcher. The catcher scrambled after the ball and Marv raced to first base. He beat the throw.
Then Chipper, our lead-off hitter, swatted a seeing-eye Texas leaguer that fell in shallow right field between the second baseman and the right fielder.
The ball took a crazy bounce and got away from both of them.
By the time they got the ball back into the infield, we had runners on second and third with nobody out.
Jackie stepped in.
Pops Turner, the Jane Street Lumber coach, called time and walked out to the mound for a conference with Big Al and the catcher and the other infielders.
Ned called Jackie and Marv and Chipper over to him and whispered instructions.
I saw Pops look over at Ned and then duck his head back into their huddle.
On the bench, we were all speculating about what was going to happen next.
Were the Lumberjacks going to walk Jackie to load the bases and create a force situation at any base? Were they going to pitch to him?
Maybe they didn’t want to put the go-ahead run on base with our third, fourth and fifth hitters coming up?
Is Ned going to have Jackie squeeze bunt? Jackie had dragged a bunt for a single in the first inning.
I looked over at Dad in the bleachers behind our bench. I saw him shift his feet and take a deep breath. He was living the tension along with me, as excited and absorbed by the moment as I was.
When he saw me looking at him, he smiled and pointed out to the mound. “Pay attention, Son,” he was saying.
Pops Turner was a smart coach, the kind Dad called “a student of the game.”
I had learned to respect Pops during the all-star weekend earlier that month.
He was the assistant coach for the all-star team and he had prepared me and Big Al before the tournament and had also talked to us about the batters on the other teams throughout each game.
Pops knew how to pitch to all of the opposing teams’ hitters after studying their stances and watching their behavior at the plate the first time each batter was up.
I wondered what he was going to tell Big Al to do against Jackie.
“Play ball!” the umpire ordered and Pops walked back to the Lumberjacks’ bench.
Jackie stepped to the plate again.
Big Al wound up and fired his rising fastball. Jackie squared to bunt. He was trying to squeeze in a run, but Pops had told Big Al to throw his pitch just a bit higher than usual to try to get Jackie to pop up a bunt attempt.
And that’s what happened.
Marv was sprinting home when Jackie’s pop up was caught by the catcher a few feet up the third base line. Marv turned to run back to third, but the catcher fired the ball to the shortstop covering the bag for the double play.
Chipper alertly ran back to second and just beat the throw from third. At least it wasn’t a triple play.
The families and friends in the bleachers behind the Lumberjacks’ bench roared their approval. Now there were two out and one runner left on base at second. One more out and the Lumberjacks would advance to the semi-final series.
And our season would be over.