Perfect game

May 28, 2024

   We were the underdogs. Eleven years old and younger, with oversized gloves and a still-to-be-developed relationship between a baseball and a bat. All knew the stakes. Win and move on, lose and go home. Would the parents feel it more than their kids?

  In the first inning the visitors (us) scored twice and our opponents got one back. Who would know that would be the margin of victory; the little league game suddenly would take on the grind-it out with pitching and defense emerging front and center. It certainly never matched any memory I could conjure of my own playing days back at that age.

  There was a line drive rocketing past second that would have sent me running in the opposite direction, instead of stabbing it out of the air like our shortstop here did. The ball seemed to propel the youngster toward the outfield with the force of its velocity.

  Then there was the fly ball to center. Over the three games I’ve seen of this playoff series, most of these were falling for multiple base errors. But the outfielder held his ground and he made it look easy. 

  Once, this kid named Rudy Kael, who would grow up to sign a contract with the Cincinnati Reds organization, came to the plate against the team I was playing for. Even at 11, he could pound the baseball a country mile. I was playing left field and backed up as far as I could, in the event Rudy got hold of one. He did.

  I saw the ball off the bat. It wasn’t hit so much as it was launched. It seemed headed for the clouds in the sky and maybe a little beyond them. I kept backing up until I reached the bench seats of the school’s football field. Finally, the ball started down, scorched with reentry burns I was certain. I was also certain if I caught the ball, it would make a hole on my glove and continue through my hand. Hopelessly, I reached as far as I could above my head with my glove and awaited death. Something suddenly slammed into the glove and stayed there. I looked, and there it was: a long, loud out recorded by me. I ran triumphantly back to our dugout, where my teammates all said in unison: “none of us believed you’d catch that.”

  This day, Carol’s grandson’s team held on to a nail-biting  3-1 victory and the league championship. Afterwards, I heard him telling his dad how a curveball caused a batter to jump back from the plate, as the ump called “strike one.” I told his dad that when I saw my first and only curveball, I wound up on my back, bat flying in the air, as the ump looked over me and quietly called, “strike three.”

  Over six decades, the game of baseball hasn’t changed, but the players thankfully have. Congrats Bulldogs. It was a well-played game, and a well-earned win. Now I kind of know how it must feel to win one of them .

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