Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Summer Baseball Consumed My Life

My peak in athleticism, relative to my peers, was when I was 12. I was on the Blue Devils baseball team in Knik Little League and we were on fire. We were the best team in the league and it was very rare that we were beaten. I think we may have had 2 losses that entire season. I was one of the main pitchers and I also played short-stop, 1st base and 3rd base. This was one of the most memorable summers of my life.

I had two pitches in my repertoire: a 2 seam fast ball and a weird changeup/breaking ball pitch. That change-up fooled all kinds of hitters. I thought it was so great whenever the batter swung and the ball would drop down to home-plate at the last second, striking the batter out. I thought I was a hot-shot with that pitch. Then one day we were up against the Green Berets (I think) and Erik was up to bat. The team as a whole wasn't amazing, but Erik was great. He was one of the best home-run hitters in the league, but I still thought I'd be able to strike him out with his huge strike zone. I got two strikes on him, one he missed and the other he fouled deep in right field. That worried me a little bit, but I was ahead in the count, so I thought I'd try to get him with my change-up. The pitch was always best when it looked like it would be a strike, but dropped to the dirt. But this time I messed up. I threw it high, letting it drop right to the middle of his strike zone. Erik had seen the pitch before against his team mates and he was too good of a hitter to just get ahead of it and miss it. He watched it drop like it always does and gave it a hard whack. It was a high fly ball right over my head. I knew it was bad as soon as he hit it, and sure enough, it was a home run. A humbling experience for me.

We ended up winning the league championship later on in the season and when we won we all ran out to the mound jumping and laughing like we had just won the World Series. We had the best coach in the league and we were pretty sure all along that we could win the championship because he did such a good job coaching us. Bob Jones was his name. I always remember that he always told the other coach to call for the coin toss at the beginning of every game and he never ever ever lost. The regular season was fun and all, but 5 of us still had the All-Star season to come and things started to get serious.

I have a hard time remembering who our coaches were, but I think it was Coach Spink, Travis' dad, and maybe ole' Coach Bob helped out too...can't remember. We bumped it up to 2 practices every day for the next week as we prepared for the district tournament, which was to be held at our ball park. I honestly don't remember much from this part of the tournament. Seems like we were really confident that we would win this series because we had watched the other teams and they weren't all that great. Sure enough, we won the district championship and it was a Round-Robin tournament, so it was pretty anti-climactic.

After district, comes state, so we started getting ready to go to Fairbanks for the state tournament. I couldn't believe this was happening because there was talk among the parents about the possibility of us winning the state championship and going immediately from Fairbanks to California. We were so excited but started to finally get nervous. My mom bought me a bag to put all my soap and tooth paste and stuff in and bought me some sandals too. She told me that I'd probably have to shower with other boys if we made it to California and she didn't want me to get athlete's foot and sandals would help prevent that. We flew to Fairbanks, and once again I felt like a hot-shot. I had never flown to Fairbanks. It's just a 7 hour drive, so I always drove it, but the league paid for us to fly up there, so I felt like a celebrity.

We made it to Fairbanks and met the families who would keep us at their house. The family who kept us at our house was great. They came to our games and cheered us on. And let me tell you, their daughter was cute! She was a year younger than me I think, but boy was she cute. Oh and they had a trampoline and there's nothing more fun than a trampoline. I remember staying up late at the house watching a 21 inning Mariners game while practicing our golf putting on the little green they had in the basement. They had a Haro mountain bike in the basement and I thought it was the coolest bike ever.

There were 3 teams there: Knik (us), Fairbanks, and Ketchikan. We watched the other two teams play and after that game we were thankful that we played Fairbanks first. They were pretty bad and Ketchikan had an amazing team. They were all taller than us and their pitchers were FAST! Ketchikan seems like they always win the little league state championships in Alaska, so we were a bit afraid of them. Well our first game, like I said, was against the Fairbanks team and we whooped them. Pretty sure we won by like 10 runs and I got to pitch that game. I only let in maybe 1 or 2 runs for the whole game and had a sweet home run (I still have the home run ball from that game). This was one of the coolest games I had ever played because I was interviewed by a Fairbanks newspaper. I really felt like a celebrity. I thought for sure that girl at our house would fall in love with me after my performance that game. She didn't.

I can't remember much about the 2 games we had against Ketchikan, but we lost both. We were behind by no more than 4 runs in the second game and my team had given up before the last inning. One thing I love about baseball is that there's no time limit and it's possible to come back from any gap in the very last inning. I still had hope we could win, but many of my teammates threw in their towels.

We flew back to Anchorage and were horribly disappointed, but it was still one of the best summers ever.

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