Photo Credit: kthypryn C.C. Lincese 2.0
It had been a tough summer for The American Federation of Teachers little league baseball team. One win and eight losses was hardly the season the young ball players had hoped for in May, but as the last game approached there was renewed optimism. Murphey’s Pic and Pay was the only team in the league with a worse record than AFT. Certainly, the two worst teams competing not to be last place was for most a meaningless game, but for me it was the highlight of my baseball career. It was not recorded in the annals of baseball history, but on a hot Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1988, AFT and Murphey’s Pic and Pay squared off on the minor league diamond at Make Peace Park.
I was ten that summer, and had been in a sort of batting slump-no hits, 10 walks, and 12 strike outs on the season. However, for my birthday I received a batting glove, and everything was about to change. I remember well that hot August afternoon. I remember stepping to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and final inning, the score tied at 0 to 0. I remember the chatter “hey batter, hey batter, batter”. I remember my mother’s voice, “Come on, Brett, hit out of the park.” How could I let my mother down? The umpire dusted off home plate. I knocked the dirt out of my cleats and stepped into the batter’s box. My grip was sure. The batting glove locked my hands into the roughed up Louisville Slugger.
The first pitch came, and I swung with all might. “Strike,” the umpire declared. I heard my coach screaming, “Don’t swing, take the walk!”. I stepped out of the batter’s box, and took a practice swing. I looked towards the home dugout. My coach stared back grumpy with sunflower seeds in his cheek. The umpire announced, “0 and 1!”. Then I gathered my confidence, and stepped back into the batter’s box. The second pitch came. “Ball” the umpire said, “1 and 1”. I heard my mom’s voice over the infield chatter, “Come on, Brett!” How could I let that voice down? I gritted my teeth and settled into my batting stance with my elbow up. Then the third pitch came. It was low and inside. I stood frozen and at the last moment tried to jump backwards, but the pitch hit my left foot. I was in shock, but I didn’t let it show. I just threw my bat towards the on-deck circle and looked to the umpire. “Hit batsman!”, he declared. ”Son, take your base!” There was lackluster applause from the stands, and I limped down the first base line. I was the winning run, and I was on!
Now we were at the top of the lineup, and Jamie came to bat. Jamie was a powerhouse hitter. If anybody could come through for us it was Jamie! The pitcher put his foot on the mound, and I committed to a small lead off. The chatter came from the infield,”Hey batter, hey batter, batter.” The pitcher wound up, and the pitch came. “Crack!” the ball launched off Jamie’s bat and headed deep over the second baseman’s head. I started running. The crowd was cheering. My heart was burning in my chest, and as I approached second base, I looked to the third base coach. He was waving me to third. I ran with all my might. I could hear my mother’s voice, “Go Brett, Go!”. I felt as if I was flying, and soon I reached third base. There the third base coach said, “Stop!” I stopped and looked back. Jamie was on second standing straight up with his hands on his hips. I looked towards the home dugout. The whole team was on there feet. I was safe on third!
“Good job, Brett, nice run,” the third base coach, coach Cloud said. “Now, Brett, when I tell you to run, run with all your might. You are the winning score.” “Yes, sir,” I replied. The pitcher approached the mound. I had a small lead off. Chatter came from the infield and Adam came to bat. Adam was good hitter-not quit as good as Jamie but still good. I heard my mom’s voice across the field, “Come on, Brett!”. The pitch came, and everything went into slow motion. My entire life seemed to teeter on this moment. I felt paralyzed in another realm, and though my feet were rooted in the clay and dirt, I felt like I had the speed of a Cheetah. I knew then that I would make it home safe. I watched the pitch. It was high. The catcher stood to receive it, but it flew over his head. “Wild pitch, run Brett, run!” Coach Cloud screamed. I took off running as fast a I could. The pitcher was running too. The catcher went to the back stop to retrieve the ball. It would be a close play at home. I dove head first sliding Pete Rose style into home plate. The catcher threw the ball to the pitcher to make the play. Dirt flew in the air, and there was utter silence. The entire season and the entire summer had come down to this. Gradually the haze of dirt cleared, and my hand, batting glove and all, was squarely on home plate. “Safe!” the umpire proclaimed.
I jumped to my feet. We had won. The home dugout went crazy. I skipped towards my teammates, leaped in the air, and gave hi-fives with my batting glove hand. American Federation of Teacher’s little league baseball team would not be last place. We embraced the victory, and celebrated with glad hearts. Then we shook hands with our opponents, and made our way to Dairy Queen. Reflecting now, I may be the only one that remembers when AFT played Murphey’s Pic and Pay for last place. Regardless, that day, I was immortal on the sandlots of time and the unmistakable product of the American Dream!
Written by: Brett Wiley