BEARING DOWN by John Dudley
The returning nightmare from days past was now a reality. It laughed at
and taunted me as though it really knew this was going to happen. Nothing is harder than one thousand people counting on you to lead them to the promised land. The sky is falling now and I am the only one who can halt its ominous descent. I have the talent, but I need the courage and the will to make the throw that will win it all.
It was a hot afternoon in mid-June, and most of the population of Frestar
County, Oregon, were now at Kirty Field in Seattle. Today was a day to end all days. It was the Reebok State Baseball Championships, an event the Frestar High Flames had not won in over thirty-five years. But this time it was different; the team had jumped to an early lead, and managed to hold off the threats from the Wettle Lions until the ninth inning. The pitcher, Keith Jogures, gave up a double, a single and then proceeded to walk the next two batters, to load the bases up with the tying run at the plate. The batter was State Outfielder of the Year, Johnny Deevers, and there were two outs! That's when I arose from my humble place in the corner of the dugout and took the field to try to settle the screams arising from past heartbreaks and the fear of future failures.
Thr first two pitches rose high for balls and I began to sweat. He fouled
off two more and then watched a called ball three, to make it a full count. The situation of my childhood dreams became the truth here and now. The smooth hardness of the ball glided through the torn and overworked callouses on my hands, the seams sucked the sweat right from my fingertips, into the damp, shallow crevice of my glove. A pair of scuff marks locked themselves betweem my fingers, cutting into the scars of past balls and strikes. I adjusted my cap, removed the hot, sticky perspiration from my brow, and checked for the signs.
I had studied the night before and knew that Joe Deevers could hit anything
that went slow, fast or did a double turn or spiral in the air, if he wanted to. I had been keeping the ball low and away and that seemed to be effective. Coach Wyatt said that Deevers can get overly anxious in certain tense situations.
My eyes were starting to ache. I could feel the pressure coming on. I
stared hard at the catcher – he showed a sinker low and in. No! Deevers wouldn't swing and I can't throw that pitch over the plate. Sinker, low and in, again. When the same sign is given twice, it means that the coach really wants that pitch thrown. No way out! I nodded. I couldn't help but glance at the stands, the mass appeals from the crowd grasped my inside and started to hit my mind as well.
I know that I can throw it for a strike. Who cares if Deevers is the best
- a strike - who cares if he will play in the Majors - there are thousands watching me - a strike - all watching me. I can't stand it - a strike - what if I go wrong - a strike - what if Deevers blasts it out - a ball - all my friends would hate me - a ball - all watching me - none would ever talk to me again. There is a funny old lady sitting right behind home plate calling me names like "loser," and "good for nothing jerk;" she's waving a flag at me, she's bothering me, move lady! Move. Somebody take her from my sight. Move her! I'm going to blow it, this is the end, I am a loser. Tears began to slide along my eyelashes.
Joe Deevers became impatient and decided to step out and double check his
signs at third. The newspaper reporters were on the edge of their seats, with pencils flaring, waiting like Deevers for the call. Waiting for it took an eternity. The Frestar High students were crying for the crown, all sat before the judgment of the pitcher, Mike Torin, a friend and popular student body vice-president. They all knew he could do it, but felt like he wouldn't.
An itch on my nose prolonged my agony; I've got to snap out of it. My eyes
began to shed a multitude of pressures, streaming down my cheeks. The voices returned - a ball, all watching me - the little old lady wouldn't budge. That corny "All American" tune started to play - dum dum dum dum - I stood at the ready - dum dum dum dum- the ball began to hug the grooves of my knotty fingers which clutched the sphere in the sinker pitch configuration - dum dum dum dum. The lady was listening to my thoughts, invading my identity - dum dum dum dum - a ball, you are going to throw a ball, a ball, you are going to throw a ball; all watching you; a ball; all, NO! NO! Get out of my mind. I had to release. The arm began the release, the arm began the wind, the ball started to slide, the sweat dripped from my eyes and off my nose, all the ghosts, all the nightmares, all the fears now - Released!
The ball jumped over the palm of my hand, starting its downward spin.
Piercing through the crafty silence of the crowd,the ball played its own game, spinning and whirling, dancing for the cheers devoutly wished for by its anxious ego. As if time had stopped, Joe Deevers was frozen by the pitch, there was no way he was going to swat his mighty grail at this one. The pitch gasped and wheezed its final breath, and took its final bow, and then fell into the shadowy vastness of the catcher's mitt. The umpire grunted and then in a blow of undoubted defiance announced, "Strike three, yer out!" Yes! I had done it, and all fears aside, I really didn't know that I had it in me. It had to be heaven-sent. As always, the longest roads aren't walked alone. The team and I had other roads to walk down. As state champions, we went on to play in the national tournament,the following month. Before the game, Coach Wyatt had written on the chalkboard, "You Are The Everything," and at the game's end that's just how we felt.