I Love This Game
The smell of fresh cut grass on a summer day is still one of my favorite smells in the world. That smell has the ability to draw memories that are buried deep in my subconscious mind, like a super powered magnet draws a needle from a haystack.
Anyone who’s played this great game of baseball knows exactly what I mean. People will tell you similar stories about any memories they have. Certain sights and sounds trigger the memories. Sometimes they can be painful memories, so people avoid those triggers. For me, it’s the reason why you will see me mowing my own lawn week after week during the spring and summer months.
Walking behind that lawnmower, and smelling that fresh cut grass, it’s easy for my entire baseball career to flash through my mind. Every time I mow my lawn, a little highlight reel plays in my mind’s eye. Every time I mow my lawn, I’m a kid again.
One would have to wonder why I didn’t become a landscaper.
The same holds true when I am commuting to work. I could be driving home from work on a hot summer evening, and see the stadium lights illuminating the sky in the distance, and immediately be brought back to my playing days.
Those lights in the distance represent memories being made for some other young ballplayer.
Seeing those lights set against an orange and purple backdrop of the sky at dusk immediately gives me goose bumps. I can picture myself standing in the outfield and feel the hot humid summer air surround me. I look up and see all the bugs crazily flying around the lights, and catch the glimpse of summer thunderstorm in the distance rolling in.
Everyone enjoys a nice summer evening thunderstorm, unless you are on the baseball field. If you’re on the ball field, you start making deals with God to hold that storm off for a little longer. You ask him to send it in another direction, just so you can squeeze in one more at-bat.
Sometimes God listens and he sends the storm in another direction, and sometimes he doesn’t. And sometimes when he sends the storm in another direction, you strikeout in your next at-bat, making you wish he hadn’t sent that storm in another direction.
I’m in the on-deck circle watching the pitcher warm-up, checking to see if he gives any tells on his pitches. I watch the catcher throw down to second base, and see if I get on first base if this is going to turn into a double.
There is a boy in the front row eating ice cream and his face is a mess. The ice cream has melted halfway down his arm at this point. I make eye contact with the boy and smile. Then I flip the bat upside down and smack the knob of the bat into the dirt to get the weight off the barrel. It’s back to business.
I start walking from the on-deck circle and survey the field to see where the fielders are playing. The coach of the opposing team gives a holler to his outfielders and makes a waving motion telling them to “Back Up! This guy can hit!”
I look down the third base line and see the third baseman is standing on the edge of the outfield grass. Even if he fields a grounder cleanly he will never throw me out from there. The shortstop is equally as deep.
Walking slowly to the plate, I turn my attention to the pitcher and begin to stare directly at him. I’m holding the bat in my right hand, with the bat head resting on my shoulder. He proceeds to stare back, trying to act as if he’s not intimidated. He takes off his glove and starts rubbing the ball with both hands. A signal goes off in my head – “he’s nervous, he’s mine.”
I step into the box and smooth out any bumps in the dirt – I can’t have any distractions. Any little bump in the dirt would be a distraction. Once the batter’s box manicure is complete, I step out and look down at the third base coach.
He starts rifling through signs, but they don’t mean anything. He gives a little clap which is my signal sort of like when a producer in a play yells “ACTION!”
I settle back in the box and take two half swings, and two deep breaths and get set. If the situation isn’t right, I will call time out and step out of the box. Everything has to be in place. Everything has to feel perfect.
I can sense the catcher looking at me to make sure I’m not peeking back to steal signs. Don’t worry; I don’t need to steal your signs.
The catcher tries to get me thinking, so he pops the glove towards the outside part of the plate, but I can hear him settle on the inside. Nice try.
The pitcher starts his windup. I pick the bat up off my shoulder, and as his hand gets to the top of his motion I start to coil, like a snake ready to strike. I immediately recognize the pitch is out of the strike zone and hold off. The pitcher tried to blow the first fastball by me, but he put a little too much humph into it, and it almost went over the catcher’s head to the backstop.
The pitcher doesn’t know it, but he already lost the battle. I own him.
The pitcher has two options, he can take a little off and try to come with a strike on the next pitch, to avoid going 2-0 in the count; or he can pitch around me, and hope I chase some pitches and concede the walk. But I can tell by the look in his eye that he is coming after me.
I won’t be walking down to first unless he beans me. The next pitch will be his mistake. He should’ve conceded the walk.
I don’t even look down at the third base coach this time. I’m locked in on the pitcher. He starts shaking his head – no, no, no. I let the catcher take him through his rolodex of pitches until he ultimately decides on the absolute worst pitch he can throw me.
Never shake the catcher off – check mate.
The pitcher rocks into his motion, and as his hand gets to the top of his motion I start to coil like a cobra again, except this time I recognize the pitch is coming down Broadway.
His only hope is that I swing and miss. His only hope is that I try to do too much with this meatball of a pitch that looks about the size of a beach ball in my eyes right now.
I start to uncoil to unleash the pain on my opponent.
There’s silence from the time the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand to the moment of impact. Everything around gets phased out. It’s just the batter and the pitcher in that moment. Standing in that batter’s box you are all alone. Nobody can help you. Seven times out of ten the pitcher is going to get the best of you, but not this time.
That silence gets broken by the crack of the bat when the ball connects with the bat in the perfect spot. From that sound, you could never tell that the hitter never even knew he made contact with the ball. It sounds like a crash of thunder.
When it’s pure, it doesn’t feel like the bat and ball even met for the hitter. You wouldn’t even know you made contact until you saw the pitcher’s head whip around to watch where the ball lands.
I take a quick glance up and see the ball carrying over the left-centerfield wall.
Sweat drips off my brow as I start my trot, and the pitcher is looking down at his feet now. I round first base and head to second, and the opposing team’s second baseman whispers “nice shot” as I trot by. I nod back to acknowledge him without letting the pitcher know what his second baseman just said to me.
As I’m rounding third base and putting my hand up to give my third base coach a high five, my lawnmower runs out of gas. I’m snapped back into the real world just as fast as I drifted away from the scent of the fresh grass clippings.
Whether you played the game or not, baseball is all about making memories. Some of the best moments of my life either occurred on the baseball field, or while I was in the stands watching with close friends and family members.
You don’t just remember the events of the game, you recall the person you shared that moment with. Those moments transcend the game itself, and all we have left are the memories.
That’s why we love the game. That’s why I love this game.
About the Author: Mitch Petanick
Mitch is currently an Editor and Minor League Analyst for Mets Merized Online. His baseball experience includes being a former All-Conference collegiate baseball player who had numerous professional tryouts, and he is currently a hitting instructor. He has been involved with the game of baseball for over 30 years now as a player, coach, and consultant. Mitch is also a former Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @FirstPitchMitch.
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