Mayday part one
May has been a wild ride so far. Spring came and the world bloomed. It all started on the first day. 13 months to the day, I was playing in my first baseball game since I hurt my elbow. It was a cloudy day, a high in the low 50s, but I was jubilant. I actually couldn’t believe it, warming up with a jersey on with the first pitch just a half hour away. I started the game in left field and batted third in the order. I felt like a young Ken Griffey Jr. out there. Fast, strong, and enthusiastic beyond measure. I got about a half dozen of plays in the first two innings: catching balls on the run, sprinting down balls in foul territory, and chucking the ball back into the infield. One easily overlooked aspect of playing in the field during a baseball game is how you prep for every pitch, getting into a good athletic position in anticipation of what the batter does. I take those stutter steps very seriously.
My first at-bat was a swirl of emotions as well. I felt like my stomach was in my throat. A bunch of deep breaths later, I found myself on first base with a walk. Absolutely classic considering how much of an on-base machine I was in high school. First pitch takes for days. In the third inning, I returned to my natural position, center field. I played almost every single inning of my three-year high school varsity career patrolling the flagship position in the outfield. In center field you call the shots, communicating with the two guys next to you to cover all the space effectively and safely. It certainly helps when you know your fellow outfielders, can trust them, and you all complement one another. During this game, we were all playing extremely shallow because this is a men’s wood bat league. Most of us aren’t going Bryce Harper out there. Anyway, playing shallow means there’s less space between each individual outfielder so communication becomes even more important. Unfortunately, our lack of good communication in the third inning resulted in disaster for me.
A soft line drive gets hit towards right center. I have a great read on it. I start sprinting over. I’m going to dive and snag it, make a highlight reel caliber play. In only my third inning back too! My focus hones in completely on the flight of the ball. No peripheral vision like a gold glover would have. I fail to realize that the ball is basically hit right at the right fielder. He probably thought that it was so obviously his ball that he wouldn’t have to call it. To his credit, he does call it, but softly and late. I’ve already closed in and it’s too late. The ensuing collision probably looked ridiculous to everyone else on the field. Luckily, I dodge in front of him at the last second, barely clip his body, and tumble to the ground. He held on to the ball for the 2nd out of the inning. Though it should have been just a routine play for him, I turned it into a highlight reel catch haha. I get up and realize my leg hurts pretty good. I’m limping as I jog into the dugout after the inning. That’s what you get for trying to be a hero.
In my 2nd at-bat, I hit a soft liner in front of the center fielder for a base hit. I still got it baby. My leg really hurts though and I can’t run well. What the fuck did I do to it? I’m sure my excitement over playing for the first time in a while made the pain seem less severe. I wanted to stay in the game! I was hoping to pitch an inning. Well, I got my wish in the 6th inning and went out to take the mound. It was a lot less dramatic than I imagined it would be, however, I find it hard to put the feelings into words. I was in the flow state, locked in and confident. It was almost as if months of preparation made me turn down the volume of my mind and just let my body do its thing. My goodness, the inning felt incredible. I pitched to four batters, walked one, struck out two, and sawed off the last guy. I wasn’t especially efficient with my pitches, throwing around 18-20 for the four batters, but for my first time pitching in a game in that long, wow I was ecstatic! All the months of work. This was how it was supposed to be. A healthy arm throwing bullets right into the mitt. On track to get overseas in a few more months. My dream realized.
Except my leg really hurts. Over the rest of the game, I go even easier on it. My last at-bat I don’t even touch first base running down the line, hopping over it to prevent myself from putting too much weight on my left leg. My close buddy Andrew saw that at-bat, made it for the last inning, god bless his heart. He’s been with me since the beginning of this pitching journey. That meant a ton to me. Later that day I grabbed some food with him and our buddy Collin. I was limping pretty significantly at that point. At the time of the injury, I thought it wasn’t too bad. I mean, I pitched well with it! The next day I could barely walk. May day.