I’ll share with you a story from my childhood that to this day occupies a place in my mind. If I were to sit down and write a story of my life, this particular part I would dedicate an entire chapter.
I was twelve years old and we were in the Little League Baseball (11 and 12 year olds) regional championship game. We win this game and we were headed to the state championship series. Throughout this tournament I was really seeing and hitting the baseball very well. The team I was on, (people referred to us as “the squad”) was a very talented group of kids. A few of these kids would later go on to play at the collegiate level and one played semi-pro ball. There were a lot of kids on that team who could hit the ball a long distance, even as 12 year old kids. I was not one of those kids. But I could hit. I rarely struck out and always put the ball in play. Preferring to hit line-drives into the outfield, knock in some runs and jack up my batting average. This was my style even in high school. After which my career ended like 99 percent of all aspiring athletes.
At any rate, the game took place on a July night. I preferred to play at night. The lights give off the perfect illumination. I always found the ball easier to hit at night. It sort of glowed at night under the artificial lights, making it appear bigger than it actually was.
It was the top of the 6th in a 6 inning game with one out. Our two teams were tied one to one. I remember the kid who was pitching was very good. He threw hard for a 12 year old. But he was getting tired by this point and his fastball lost some of its zip. I mentioned I was hitting the ball very well during this tournament, and I was feeling supremely confident going to the plate. I planned to jump on the first pitch that was hittable. Unfortunately, the first pitch was wide and out of the strike zone.
I stepped out of the box, looked at my third base coach as we were instructed to do after every pitch. He patted his head, which signaled to me he was giving me freedom to swing a way. In other words, “I have nothing for you. There’s one out and we need you on base. Swing a way, young man.”
I liked that. I waited for the pitcher to set; I dug in, and let the bat dance delicately, slightly above and behind my head. I had rhythmic energy that started in my knees, through my hips, up to my hands that kept my bat live. It helped to keep it quick, like a snake coiled to strike. When the ball left the pitcher’s hand, I swear to you it appeared to stop in midair at some point out in front of the plate. I recall actually seeing the “horseshoe” on the ball during that moment of suspension.
I turned my hips, let my hands go and met the ball out in front of the plate. I still remember the sound of the bat, that aluminum “ping” on contact that is like music. The ball launched from my bat like a rocket high into the air. Way above the lights but I could see it traveling deep, deep, deeper still. The left fielder turned and gave it chase. I glanced at the fence. I glanced at the ball; I glanced at him, trying to do a quick estimation if I had gotten enough of it to clear the fence. I knew I had hit it hard. I knew I got every ounce of it.
Then I saw the ball falling, almost straight down after it did all the climbing and traveling from the force my 12 year old body sent into it. The left fielder gave up. He ran out of real estate. He watched it fly over head, his neck craning. That told me all I needed to know. I saw the same thing. I watched the ball traveling up and away from the first base line.
It cleared the fence easily and landed on an asphalt track that circled the baseball fields. The ball bounced over a concession stand that was parked on the other side. I immediately went into my home run trot. It was the slowest trot in the history of home run trots. I basked in the crowd’s cheers. I could hear my name being shouted. My feet floated around the bases. As I rounded second base, the shortstop told me, “Good hit, man.” I still had enough control over myself to say thank you. It was only when I rounded and saw my third base coach that I picked up my step anticipating him giving me a high-five and a pat on the backside.
When I rounded third base, my teammates were waiting for me at home plate, ready to pummel me, and take turns slapping my helmet. When I was about three feet or so from home plate, I leaped and landed with both feet on it. I remember feeling instantly a tinge of disappointment. As wonderful as it was, as happy as I was to be able to emulate my baseball idols, it was over. I felt like I could have stayed there repeating it over and over forever.
After the game was finished, which we won 2-1, my dad told me he was proud of me. He had tears in his eyes, which is saying a lot about the old man. He rubbed my head, played with my hair and held me close to him with one arm draped over my chest. I was happy that he was happy. I was happy everyone was happy. I was happy that everyone got to witness what I did. I was happy everyone had to notice me. I was happy that some little kids brought me the ball after they found it. I still have it, with the date and the score. It’s safe with me as a memento of mine, representing a very good memory.
Now this may or may not have happened quite like I explained. Depending on your opinion of physics you may doubt seriously the ball stopped in mid air, even if I said it did for only a split second, and you may doubt my eyes actually picked up the horseshoe stitching on the baseball. I was told by my older brother later that the ball didn’t travel quite as high or as far as I remembered, and that the whole event — from pitch to home run — lasted about two seconds. So it may seem to contradict the story how so much detail can be crammed into a few seconds. Though he did acknowledge my home run trot was very slow and it was more like a home run strut. There he agreed with my recollection at least.
But who are you going to believe, a 12 year old that lived it or a trained physicist and an eye witness?
Besides, I still have the newspaper clipping explaining it all. Though, I was a little disappointed that the writer left out so much detail.