Bases loaded, down three runs in the bottom of the penultimate inning, one out, Tournament of Champions semi-final. Winner heads to the final winner-take-all game to decide the District Champ.
That’s where my son found himself yesterday. I’d like to fill this blog with vivid imagery of his game-winning grand slam, or game-tying double. Hell, I’d like to fill this blog with imagery of his rally-extending walk and subsequent team rally to win the game.
The first pitch was six inches outside, maybe more. He chased it like a dog chasing its tail. “Stay patient, wait for your pitch!” I shouted.
The second pitch was on the outside corner. Another swing and miss.
I could see it coming a mile away. He was pressing, overhyped and overcharged for the moment. He wanted it TOO much. He had already boomed a double over the center fielder’s head and driven in a run with a single to right. He wanted to be the hero. He knew it was HIS time.
The manager (and third base coach) called time. He pulled Trevor over, sensing his anxiety. I saw Trevor nodding and taking a deep breath. He seemed more settled when he got back in the box.
The next pitch was a hair inside, but too close to take. Trevor took a rip. It was a soft, humpbacked bloop to the third baseman. The baserunner at third (incorrectly) broke for the plate turning this harmless bloop into a rally-killing DP.
Trevor collapsed halfway down the first base line, holding his head in his hands. He was 3rd on the team in RBIs, 2nd in runs, 2nd in hitting, he had the most pitching victories, he was the best fielder by far, he was the starting shortstop for a team in the TOCs for two consecutive years, no mean feat.
Since the beginning of the year, he had pretty much led this team. He was picked as team captain before the first game, he was nominated for the league all-star team, and he had accepted his role with aplomb. In a game where the team defense faltered, he had played errorless ball, saving a run by charging a slowly hit ball, looking a runner back to third, and firing to first for the out. He had prevented another run with a perfect one-hop throw to the plate on a long triple.
None of that mattered.
No tears yet, there was still an inning to play. He gathered himself, grabbed his glove, and trotted out to shortstop. Between pitches, he slammed his glove into his leg, unable to shake the frustration of his failed at-bat. Back in the dugout after an uneventful top of the 7th, he held his head, occasionally shouting encouragement to his teammates. The team couldn’t rally in the last inning and was eliminated 7-4.
Nothing is more depressing than a losing dugout. The wet blanket of a loss weighs everyone down. All of the players gathered their equipment, some for the last time ever, seemingly in slow-motion. Some sniffles, but surprisingly few. These were 13-14 year olds, angry and frustrated more than sad.
The parents all stood back while the manager gathered the players for the last time. The players all had to turn in their jerseys after the game, so they were just wearing t-shirts when they got up to be received with applause and hugs from their proud parents. I held Trevor by his shoulders, looked in his eyes, and told him “It’s not on you. You helped get them here. Just like you wouldn’t take all the credit if you had won, you shouldn’t take all the blame when you lose.” I hugged the boy and kissed him on the back of his head.
This will make him stronger. He understands that now, a day later.
But, boy, it hurt like hell yesterday. I only hope he gets another chance someday.