How to Make

A Ballplayer

By Rob Monaco

It was the baseball Summer that almost wasn't. Joey didn't make his Summer baseball team this year. He tried out, didn't make it and was pretty broken up about it. Would he end up playing baseball anymore? What would the future bring?  A lot of questions, including the biggest one that made his head hurt... Will this be the end of baseball for me?

Joey was bummed, but then an opportunity he couldn't pass up.  Joey's mom got an email about another team that was being put together that Summer. The team was the Hawks, a team from another town with a bunch of kids he didn't know.  But hey, it was baseball, and the Coach heard he wasn't playing and sent his mother an invite. Maybe it was a sign.

"Should we try it mom?", Joey asked. "I love baseball, I'm just really nervous. It's a different town, a one time rival... but now they want me to play with them. It's weird."

Joey's mom looked at him. "Do you like baseball?" She asked.

"I love it, you know that", he said.

"Then you should do it," his mom said and tapped him on the head, putting his mitt in his hand. She grabbed her car keys. "Let's go over to the field."

It was a rainy afternoon and a lot of new faces. Joey was freaking out.  He loved baseball but this was out of his comfort zone. But when he arrived, he say a few other kids from his town too.

"What are you doing here?" he asked smiling.

 

"We got an email. This team needs a few players", said Tom. "I can't believe we're all playing together again," said Mike.

The rest of the boys were from the rival town. All nice kids. Scrappy, funny and loved baseball just like Joey did. As they practiced, the coach made it clear that fooling around on his time was not allowed, but then was cracking jokes anyway.

"This guy's weird, but I like him", said one of the blonde kids.

 

"I think he's a good coach," Luca said.

 

We'll see", said Joey.

After a few base-running drills and a fun hour and a half practice, it ended.

"I am really excited about this team, gang" said Coach. "A few more practices and then we start the season!  Be ready to play!"

Joey walked off the field. He was happy.  No, he didn't really know the other kid's names yet, but he liked them. And he really liked his Coach.  In fact, Joey talked about the Hawks the whole ride home and even that night he had great baseball dreams about it, waking up in a great mood.  He could tell, this was going to be fun.

As the season progressed, there were moments,  a whole lot of errors and a lot of losses, but something significant was happening. Not only was this group of kids becoming better players, they were also becoming better friends, pushing each other to do better. Supporting each other. They were really bonding. Thinking back to one month before, Joey almost stopped playing baseball all together. But because of an opportunity, things had changed.  He started to love the game more and more, regardless of losing games. A bond was forming, a true passion for the game was forming.  It was something special.

Then came the highlights.  Richie made that great catch in the outfield with the bases loaded and 2 outs against the Bandits. Joey still remembers it like it was yesterday. Dan hit that double and knocked in a run. Joey ptiched a lot, being called the "Ace" of the team, whatever that meant.  It didn't matter, Joey was on cloud nine and with all these little moments of achievement for his team, they were a happy bunch, and excited just to be playing baseball.  But the biggest moment came in the last game of the season.

Joey pitched 6 innings that game. The Prospects were tough. Joey was tired. There were 2 outs, but his pitch count was still low. He gave up a single to their 4 hitter, and then walked the next 2.  The lead, 5-4 could change at any moment, but the Hawks were clinging to that lead and they really wanted this win.

 

Joey was nervous. As the next batter walked to the batter's box, he sarcastically smiled at Joey. Joey got nervous. Then, the chanting began...

"BASES LOADED! WE NEED A HIT, A HIT!!!"

Joey was freaking out now. He loved baseball, but this was ridiculous.

"Time!"

 

Coach yelled to the umpire. He walked out to the mound. He looked Joey in the eyes, and he smiled.

"Did you see the new Transformers movie yet?" he asked.

"What?" Joey asked. He was confused. He half smirked as he could hear the chanting getting louder now.

"Listen," Coach said. "You've been my guy the whole season. You've worked hard. I didn't even know you when you came to this town to play with us. But you know what I saw at that first practice?"

"No", Joey said.

"Your heart. I saw that you loved baseball. I saw your heart. I saw that you loved it a lot because you showed up in another town and didn't know anyone here. And when practice started, you moved like a gazelle and you threw like a cannon."

Joey looked up. He saw that smile on his coach's face.

"I don't care what happens next, Joe. I want you to throw that ball as hard as you can because you love this game."

Then... silence.

"Show me your heart, Joe. Show it to me right now!"

Coach tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and walked slowly to the dugout. As he turned around, Coach took a deep breath. 

Joey stood on the mound, now alone.  He felt a crazy energy all over his body like he was electrocuted or something. He tipped his cap to the batter who was now digging in. 

Joey heard the chanting before... but at that moment he heard nothing.  He started his wind up... he reached back and gave it everything he had...

STRIKE THREE!!!!!

The Hawks jumped around like they just won the World Series.  It was their first win.  Joey looked in the dugout with his team going crazy all around him in the field. And for a split second, he saw his coach... with his hand on his heart and a big smile on his face looking in Joey's direction.

The Hawks won their first game on the last day of the season. A moment that would have never been possible without opportunity.

After the celebration, the players and parents headed to their cars. It was getting late.

"Never give up on kids that want to play baseball," I heard Coach say as he walked to his car. "Without them getting their shot... how would we ever know what they can do?"

As he opened his door, he looked over at Joey.

"I saw it, Coach!" Joey yelled over.

"Saw what?" Coach asked.

"Transformers!" Joey smiled. "It was awesome."

"So are you, kid. So are you."


 

© 2019 The Commish on behalf of Oradell Little League