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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Victory?


There are some moments that seemingly take place in slow motion, the kind that you not only never forget but that seem surreal as they unfold, frame by frame.  I had such a moment and want to share it with you.

The youth baseball team that I coach was battling in a baseball playoff game this past weekend.  As the Kansas City Royals battled the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, seeking bragging rights as the best team in the most prestigious professional baseball league on the planet, my son’s team the Hawks, was in the first round of his fall league’s post-season tourney.  There are nine teams in his division of nine- and ten-year-olds, and each one makes the playoffs.  We were seeded sixth for our record of two wins, four losses, and a tie (games have time limits).  We played the third-place 5-3 team.

They had a better record, but weren’t world-beaters. We weren’t favored by any means.

At stake was personal pride and neighborhood bragging rights.  When you win such a game you never forget it, and when you lose it, you quickly move on the way kids move from movie to iPad to pizza.  But when you are in the moment, it seems like the whole world is watching and the weight of life is on your tiny shoulders.

The kids each want to be the hero, or at the very least, avoid being the goat.  No one wants to kill a rally or make the final out.  No one wants to give up the game-winning hit or make a run-scoring error.  They want to win and have individual success, not only for their own sense of fulfillment but to please their parents who seek to relive, if not re-write, their own childhoods.

So here it is.  The game, a back and forth battle from beginning to end, was tied 7-7 going into the top of the final inning, the sixth.  With one out and no one on, we were facing the opposing team’s best pitcher, a fireballer.  This kid brought heat and an intimidating windup that rocked up and down, side to side, giving the batter a feeling of uncertainty as to where the ball will explosively leave the pitcher’s hand.

Up at the plate was one of our weaker hitters, batting 11th in the universal batting order, out of 11.  I’ve coached this kid for several seasons and see him improving incrementally but he looked overmatched here.  He was down in the count, one ball, two strikes.  It looked like we were a strike away from having two outs and little chance of scoring.  We’d have to go into the bottom of the inning without a lead, hoping at best for extra innings.  But the kid who’d pitch the extra inning would be my fifth best pitcher. Our chances didn't look good.

But then, a surprise moment happened, a turn of fortune.  The pitcher uncorked a wild fastball that landed on the left arm of the batter.  After he expelled some tears for absorbing a rocket ship in his body, he stood up to cheers and galloped to first base. We now had the potentially tying run on first base.

The next batter got out and the runner stole second base.  Two out, with a prayer for something good to happen.

Oscar was up.  He was the tallest kid on our team, maybe by a foot.  And he was the oldest as well.  This is who I wanted up.  We were getting to the heart of our line-up.

A few pitches into his at-bat, nothing felt like it was going to happen.  Then, suddenly, with a quick swing of the bat, I Saw the ball travel fast off of the bat and into the outfield.  In that split moment I saw a victory.  I saw the runner going towards third and in my hoarse voice I kept pace with his every stride, imploring him to run. Faster. Harder. There was a frenzied moment of seeing everything you hoped could happen suddenly unfolding in front of you.

Once the ball got past the outfielders, my attention was to Oscar who was turning third base and being waived in by my third base coach.  A throw was coming in from the distance and I yelled for Oscar to run… slide… safe! 

He took a good 10-15 seconds to lie face down in the dirt, exhausted, relieved, shocked.

We had a two-run lead and our best pitcher would close out the game.

Or so I thought.

That special moment when Oscar hit the go-ahead two-run homer was the one I’d want to take with me as I celebrated an amazing win.  But it was not to be.

The other team had their slow-motion moment awaiting a stage.

With two out in the bottom of the last inning, score now tied 9-9, their batter hit a slow-rolling ball down the third base line.  As my third baseman caught up with the ball, the runner from third was about to cross home plate, feeling the winds of victory beneath their steps.  He was lifted up by his celebrating teammates.

The thrill of victory was snatched from us, leaving us with the agony of defeat.

Will this game be a pivotal moment in the lives of anyone who participated or witnessed it?  Who’s to say – that will take years to determine, but I’m sure that we’ll not forget the moment when we felt like we won. The other team won’t forget what it was like to actually win.

How would I console our team after a tough loss and cheer my son up? Two boxes of Dunkin' Donut Munchkins cured that situation.

Kids seem like they can be passionate one moment and then move on to the next. I love their resiliency. But I also know that not everything is so easily forgotten. Everyone builds on their life's successes and defeats, at all levels, at all ages. Sometimes you can gain something from a loss and lose out on something when you win.

I played six seasons in Little League and have coached many seasons.  I remember the specifics of just a few games.  But I loved every minute I was on the field, as player or coach, because in each game there was a competitive spirit that came out.  Each game represented fun and excitement and a chance to be a winner. I can’t wait until next season.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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