Peanuts & Crackerjack
Cleveland Stadium 1948
The ninth inning stretch. The ball game is tied with two outs, two strikes and a man on second. I tap the bat on home plate. Its dead weight lumbers as mental exhaustion takes its toll. Man on second, willing to chance it. Pitcher eyes him but doesn't give in to the dangerous bluff. I kick up dust, readying my stance, the bat lays stiff upon my cramping shoulder. It's daylight still, but the stadium lights are on anyway. They trick my brain into believing they are causing the sweltering heat. The roar from the crowd intensifies. Sporadic clouds are motionless as if they don't want to miss this exhilarating predicament. The crafty catcher adjusts his stance and spits to the dry dirt. The staunch umpire doesn't flinch or even blink; he knows how important his call will be. The pitcher winds up, his grip tells me its gonna curve. The release is fierce. Beads of sweat from his hair and face disperse in every direction as the force of his might is unfailing. My left leg lifts - an instinctual move that will increase the power of my swing. My eyes lock on the speeding white dot as it instantly becomes the target I intend to destroy. The swing is late, but I manage a solid tip. The ball is taking a fast bounce toward the pitcher who is recovering from the almighty throw. The man on second leaves in a desperate rush. I drop the bat and focus my sprint on the only destination I have - first base. Three defenders race inward to be the first to retrieve the skidding ball. Man is now on third! I watch the open glove of my adversary, wondering if I will win this race. I switch my attention to his eyes, looking for a clue, some kind of reaction that tells me the ball is in the air and heading his way. All I see is frustration. The roar of the crowd spikes, something happens that I can’t see. The first baseman takes off right as my left stride touches the bag. I waste no time turning my head to see the pitcher laying on his stomach, pounding the turf with an open glove. He misses the opportunity to out me and the ball has quickly bounced past him. Excitement grows. This isn’t over yet... It has become a fight to tag out the runner heading homeward. The catcher falls to his knees in obvious desperation as he watches my teammate make the run of his life. He knows it’s going to be close when he sees the shortstop fumble the ball for a second too long. I jump up and down with no plans on leaving first base. All my chips are on the speed and agility of the active runner. His cleats dig into the dirt, creating a dust storm in his wake. He dives into the air and lands on his chest to begin the crucial slide to home plate. The shortstop fires the ball to the catcher. It immediately begins closing the gap. The crowd's roar decreases as everyone awaits this gut-wrenching outcome. The bench begins to celebrate even before he reaches the plate. The crowd goes nuts. Everyone knows how this story will end… The runner is met by the entire team as his fingers inch across home plate. The sound of the ball making contact with the catcher's glove is milliseconds too late. The ump swings his arms outward, officially calling him safe. We won! We won this hard-fought game to advance! Emotions sink in.
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