From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Cold Breeze of Baseball

Believe in something larger than yourself.

Barbara Bush

It was the high school county tournament, the one that would determine who was the best, and it lasted only one day. As we all stepped off of that big yellow bus you could see in our eyes that this day was unlike any other. The bleachers already had a crowd. The parents were already trying to get the best seat so they could see their son become the next Joltin’ Joe. And as I entered the dark and damp dugout, a strange, cool breeze ran down my spine.

As I started to loosen up my arm, every single throw I made seemed like it had to be perfect. Every single shag I took in left field felt like I was running down a game-winning hit. But at the same time everything about me was nervous!

Earlier in the morning over a plate of hotcakes and sausage, my father told me he would try to make the game as soon as he got off work. But I knew from his hectic work schedule that it was doubtful. He isn’t the kind of guy who cheered when I had a good time. A retired Navy veteran, he kept his emotions to himself, and I had always wished I could change that with hard work and dedication through baseball. Maybe my wish would come true.

Our first seed pinned us up against the toughest team in the tournament. Fortunately, due to a strong coaching decision, our number-one ace was ready to go. He had the width of Fernando Valenzuela and the height of Randy Johnson and, with that combination, he was deadly. One, two, three innings went by and not a single hit. With the score 3–2 in the ninth, we felt bold, confident of a win. Our clutch relief man came in and struck the first two guys out—both looking. The next man up was definitely going to strike out! Right? Wrong! A hit to left center looked like it came out of one of those old pirate cannons. I reacted and took an angle at this ball where I would have to be moving fast. I sprawled out like a cheetah across the thick grass. With my eyes still scared shut to see the outcome, I opened them and to my amazement there was the ball on the top of my glove like a snowcone on a summer day. The game was saved. But still as I trotted proudly back to the dugout, I gazed to the stands and didn’t see my father. He isn’t going to show, I thought to myself.

At a single elimination tournament we had just knocked off the toughest team and were halfway to a championship. The next team we had to face was one we had dealt with before and one that had beaten us in extra innings on a humiliating home run.

One hour later, after enjoying the glory of victory, we were back on the field. Our third-string catcher was in, so we knew that our offense was going to have to step up to make this a ball game.

Again, we had a tight game all the way through with the score of 5–3, not in our favor. The game seemed to move very slowly for us on the offensive side. A couple of singles brought us the three runs, but it didn’t seem like this game was going in the right direction.

Being the lead-off hitter for the season, I felt it was my job to get something started or maybe even something to end! All of a sudden it was the top of the ninth. On our squad we all gathered in the dugout and said that this was it. This was the last chance we have to prove that we are the champions. With a little advice from our coach and our rally caps on, we were going to turn this game around. First guy up walks—next batter hits into a double play! Already two outs and no one on! Our hopes started to dwindle as a cold breeze came through again. Perhaps this was the sign of a change? The seventh and eighth hitters both walk. The next batter hits a screamer at the second baseman. As the runners are advancing the second baseman bobbles the ball and all of a sudden it is bases loaded with two outs.

Here I come to the plate, palms drenched and wide-eyed, realizing that it has all fallen on me—5–3 in the top of the ninth inning. The coach from the other squad comes in and brings in his relief pitcher, Butch. I remember to this day the diabolical look in this guy’s eyes and the sound of his name over the loudspeaker. I step up to the plate and wipe my brow, dig my cleats into the dirt, and sit and wait on the pitch. One ball, two balls, three balls. Am I going to walk? One strike, two strikes. Am I going to strike out? As a full count quickly sneaks up on me, I take a good step out of the box and look to the crowd. Maybe I will see some kind of answer? Maybe someone can help me? At that very moment, still in his suit from work, I see my father. He doesn’t know that I see him and I quickly turn back to the hitter’s box and dig in again. I choke up on the bat about two inches and take a half step up in the plate.

The next pitch looked like a melon to me. It came at me with such a perfect spin and speed that when I made contact it felt like I actually didn’t hit anything at all. As I swing through I look, and this white object that was coming at me around eighty miles an hour is quickly going the other way at the same speed. The crowds’ cheers are a low hum to me as I concentrate on the flight of the ball. It travels deep into left field and slams against the fence. I round second base and make a diving, head-first, Pete Rose–style slide, into third. “Safe!” As I lay in the dirt with my mouth full of some of the best dirt I have ever tasted, I gaze up and see my father throwing high fives with the other fans and turn to me and wink. Game won, 6–5.

That wink from my father showed acceptance and emotion I have never seen. To this day, we speak and joke about that game, the snow cone catch, the famous triple and the Pete Rose slide. And it is because of the game of baseball that this can happen.

Dale Wannen

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners