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Short Story About Little League Baseball: The Triple
The following is a short story about the simple magic youth baseball evokes in the hearts of those that take part in or watch the games. For many, Little League baseball fields are settings for some of the most memorable moments in life. This is a fiction story about an eight-year old ballplayer, his parents, and his coach. Any names used in it have been imagined by the author.
Victor Baker was a rather frustrating case for first year manager, Bob Rankin. The kid was only eight years old, and Rankin made it a point to remember that, but the other kids on the team had improved over the season, and Victor had not. The boy didn’t say much to anyone – he was painfully shy – and he usually just nodded when Rankin and the other coaches were instructing him. They knew he was listening, but, during the games, the dark-haired youngster with the pale complexion didn’t do anything different.
Victor knew the reason why he wasn’t a good ballplayer. He was afraid of the ball. He’d never tell his coach that, but he struck out because he squeezed shut his saucer-like, brown eyes and swung the bat when the pitcher threw it, but all he really hoped for was that the ball didn’t hit him. He booted ground balls when the coach put him at second base because he was more concerned about getting out of the way of the grounders hit his way than he was fielding them.
He was small for his age, with a peculiar lack of agility for a child. He wasn’t an athlete, and his now divorced parents would have to understand that. He was glad today’s game was the last of the season. He liked baseball, but he was scared to death to play it. He turned around on his seat on the player’s bench and saw both his mom and dad were there, sitting in different sections of the aluminum stands. They smiled and waved. He waved back and sighed.
The players on the field ran in and sat on the bench. Coach Rankin read off his lineup card the next hitter due up. “Anderson!” Jeremy Anderson was the best hitter on the team. A boy with long yellow hair donned a helmet and took a few practice swings near the batter box. When the other team and pitcher were ready, the ump motioned at Jeremy to step in.
Some kids are simply natural ballplayers, and Jeremy was one of them. He wasn’t big or fast, and he didn’t hit the ball far, but he hit it sharply six out of ten times he came to bat. Many of the other boys couldn’t field the hot liners and grounders that came off Jeremy’s bat. His teammates fully expected to see him standing on first base in a few moments.
He didn't let them down. After taking two high fastballs, he ripped a base hit to right field.
Due up next was Will Chang, and the tall, lanky boy took a step towards home plate, but Coach Rankin called him back. Will shrugged, took his helmet off, and took his place next to the other boys on the metal bench.
And then the manager did something that dropped the jaw of every kid on the team. He looked down the line of boys on the bench until he found Victor.
"Baker!" he shouted. Victor looked into his coach's eyes and his face went pale. Coach Rankin smiled. The other boys gaped - Will batted in the third spot in the lineup, a spot normally reserved for a top hitter. Not to mention, the game was scoreless and Jeremy was standing on first base.
"C'mon, Victor, you're up!" Coach Rankin repeated.
The game was being played under a bright sun on a cloudless, picturesque day. A lazy breeze wafted out towards left field. As Victor went and selected an aluminum bat from the rack, he looked over at the stands. His mom clapped madly, alone, and he looked at her with eyes wide with fear. She beamed and yelled, "C'mon, Honey, you can do it!" Victor groaned and looked at his dad, who mistakenly saw the gesture as his queue to clap and shout and embarrass him. No help there.
The small, frail boy looked up into his coach's face and pleaded at him with his eyes. They said, Please don't make me do this. And Coach Rankin did pity the kid. He knew many of these boys well, after a season of teaching them, and he knew many of them had divorced parents. Most of them were pretty confused, and several desperately needed a male influence in their lives. Such was the case with Victor. This was only the second game Rankin had ever seen the boy's father at. The mom had been in the stands for every game.
He pondered a moment what to say to the kid. The umpire shouted, "Let's go, Coach, I need a hitter here."
As Victor put a helmet two sizes too big on his head, Coach Rankin pulled the boy aside and said, "I know you don't want to do this. But will you do something for me, just this once? Will you do what I tell you to do and try your best?"
The kid blinked up at him and nodded.
"Okay, it's simple. I just want you to focus on two things. One, keep your right elbow up, don't let it dangle at your side when you're in your batting stance. Can you remember that? Don't worry, when you swing, your elbow will follow naturally. Keep it up, like this." He demonstrated what he meant.
"Two, when the pitcher releases the ball, don't take your eyes off it. Watch it even as you swing. Do you think you can try that?"
The umpire cleared his throat loudly and glared at coach and hitter. He pulled a small brush from his pocket, bent over, and swept off home plate.
Victor said to Coach Rankin in a small voice, "I'll try, Coach."
The coach said, "Just those two things, that's all. Nothing else matters right now. Try hard, now, Victor." He put his hand on the boy's back and gave him a gentle shove toward the batter's box. Then he went and stood by the bench again.
As Victor neared his place at the plate, the umpire yelled, "Batter up!" He nearly jumped out of his skin. His palms were sweaty and he felt ill. He swallowed the lump in his throat and looked out at the pitcher's mound. The pitcher, who looked to be several feet taller than him by his imaginative reckoning, stood impatiently on the mound with a gloved hand hand on his hip.
He could faintly hear voices from the stands cheering him, no doubt fans being egged on by his mom. And for the first time in his life, it hit him. Coach Rankin knew more about baseball than anyone Victor had ever met. The realization that he should focus on what the coach told him came to him like a great inventor's idea. He stepped back out of the batter's box and said, "Time."
The umpire yelled, "Time!"
Victor Baker stood there in the sunshine, his shaggy brown hair peeking out from beneath his over-sized helmet, and reviewed what Coach Rankin had told him. When he stood back in the batter's box and adopted his batting stance, his right elbow jutted out just the way the coaches had showed the players, and the way Coach had reminded him of just moments ago. Until now, Victor had never been conscious of what he was doing as a hitter. He'd only worried about the results, which, for him, invariably led to striking out or hitting a weak grounder.
This time he focused. He saw the pitcher going into his windup, he felt the sweet summer breeze blowing on his cheek, and, when the pitcher let the ball go, he could see the red seams clearly on the white ball.
When he swung, his big, round eyes were open. He watched the ball meet the aluminum bat, and he heard a loud ping!
The ball rocketed off his bat and rose into the air. Victor stood there and watched it go. He was jarred from his admiration of this improbable spectacle by his entire team yelling from the bench. "Go, Victor. Run!"
He took his eyes off the ball, dropped his bat, and ran toward first base. One of the coach's assistants was there, wildly waving his arms, motioning for Victor to keep going. The diminutive boy pumped his arms, stepped on first base, and ran on towards second. All he could hear was the thump, thump, thump of his loose helmet banging around on his head as he ran.
He had no idea the ball had landed between the centerfielder and rightfielder and was still rolling as he neared second base. But he saw the third base coach pinwheeling his left arm and yelling for Victor to Go! Go! So he ran on, rounding second base neatly, his foot lifting a cloud of dust as it pounded the bag on his way over it.
The other team's rightfielder got to the ball first and picked it up. He turned and saw Victor past second base. He took a couple hop-steps forward and threw the ball as hard as he could toward third base, aiming his throw over the second basemen's head, who'd come to the edge of the outfield grass to make the relay throw. The right fielder's throw sailed high over the second baseman's head and landed on the dirt in front of third base.
As he ran toward third base he saw the coach there gesturing for him to slide. "Get down, Victor!" he shouted. He was watching the ball coming in from the outfield. "Down, down, down!"
Having only ever practiced a slide, and never having had to do it in a game, even Victor was surprised how naturally it came to him. He slid on the dirt with his right foot stretched forward, and his helmet slipped down over his eyes. He could feel his foot hit the third base bag, and he knew he'd made it. But he didn't know if he was safe or out. He lifted the helmet.
The big, bearded man who was the team's third base coach wore a giant grin on his face. The opposing third baseman slammed his glove down onto the dirt. Victor had beaten the throw and tag by a fraction of a second. It was so close a play that no one could question the umpire's call - SAFE!
With the reality of what just happened starting to settle in, Victor stood up on third base and looked in the stands. Everyone was standing up, cheering and clapping. His mom was crying.
With his triple, Victor Baker produced the only run that day. His team won, 1-0. In the unlikeliest turn of events, he was the day's hero.
After the game, as was Coach Rankin's custom whether the team won or lost, they all met for ice cream at a stand not far from the field. Victor rode over in his mom's car, and his dad met them there. As the boys stood around in their uniforms and ate their ice cream, Bob Rankin saw what would forever change his feelings about Little League Baseball.
Victor was standing in the center of a group of teammates, describing his big hit. He acted it out with such vigor that Rankin imagined this must be some other boy. Gone was the shy, scared eight-year old, at least for now.
The other boys laughed and joked around with the smaller boy, and Mr. and Mrs. Baker sat together on a wooden picnic bench, watching with unabashed joy in their eyes.