When the Game Calls

 You gear up and go.

On a 1-2 count, the batter pulled an inside fastball hard but foul down the left field line. The pitcher toes the rubber for the next pitch. He smiles inside at the catcher's sign. He relishes the moment, a beautiful autumn day in Tempe, Arizona. On the mound to close out this game of pool play at the NABA World Series tournament. One pitch away from sealing the win in game 2. All of this adds to the excitement of the next pitch. He'd been looking forward to this exact moment for months. Not the potential win, so much, or even the fact that he was playing baseball on the same fields the Angels start spring training. While those are moments he'll look fondly on in his memory, it's this match up he's been waiting for. 

I officially met Silky, the batter, the night before the game, when we met up so he could get his new 805 Bat. But we'd been talking about this potential faceoff for months. We'd met each other through an online baseball group almost a year before. And got to know each other through chats about baseball. We knew that we'd be playing at this tournament, in the same division, and talked about how awesome it would be to face each other if our teams played. Someone must have been listening because, sure enough, the schedule had my Outlaws facing his Tigers. So the stars aligned in a way that we might get the chance we were hoping for. 

Among adult league ball players, there's a community. I imagine it exists for other sports, as well. Although everyone has a different story, it's held together by a common love for the game. A shared language of balls and strikes, outs and runs. It's what we look forward to during the spring, summer and fall. It creates friendships that may not have existed were it not for this shared interest. And those friendships last because of the bond the game brings.

As the innings went on, we took a comfortable lead. I was playing 3B, had a hit, 3 RBIs and 2 stolen bases through the first 7 innings. I was feeling the energy. In the 8th inning, I got the call to the hill to close out the last 2 innings. I walked the first batter while finding my bearings. The next batter hit into a double play. I struck out the following batter on a bubble curve to end the inning. 

When I stepped back on the rubber for the final inning, I was feeling a high you can't get anywhere else but the baseball field. The first batter stepped in and on one pitch, he grounded out. The next batter battled a bit more, but eventually flew out to shallow center. As the next batter stepped in, I glanced at the on deck circle and saw Silky preparing for a turn. 

I won't say the fastball I threw next was right down the middle on purpose, but it wasn't an accident, if you know what I'm saying. The guy took the hint and hit a grounder through the hole on the right side. While I don't like to give up a hit, this was the opportunity I'd been waiting for. In stepped Silk, a big, muscular guy. A power hitter by trade. 60 and a half feet away I stood, all 5'9" of me. I'd told him in conversations leading up to this face off, I'd give him 1 fastball. If he hit a bomb, I'd tip my cap. If I struck him out, he'd do the same. 

Hard thrower is a description that's never been ascribed to me. I'm a junk baller all the way. I live on the mound with a slider, 3 curves and 2 fastballs, none of which go straight. I'd promised him 1 fastball. I threw him 4 in a row. I don't think he was ready for them to be 60mph cutters though. On the 4th one he fouled it off hard and I hoped my catcher was on the same wave length with me. 

I looked in for the sign and sure enough I got what I wanted. I came to the set position. Took a breath and knew this was it. I went into my slide step, arm cooked and hurled. The slider started over the middle of the plate and by the time Silky's bat was swinging a foot over it, it was ankle high and 6 inches outside, going into the catcher's glove to end the game. 

Silky, indeed, tipped his batting helmet. 

That was the highlight of the tournament for me, even though we had 3 more games to play. I rode that high for three weeks.

Three weeks later, Silky and I were on the same side of the field, playing together for the Oklahoma Baseball Team at the MSBL World Series. 

It's the love of baseball that makes these moments possible and for that I'm always grateful. 


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