March 31, 2005
The year was 1978. The Yankees were the league champions and entire 1977 team was returning so the coaches only had two draft picks, last round. The picks: Yours truly and a kid named Alec who would pee his pants when he got really excited (he got excited lots).
A year or two younger than everyone else, uncoordinated, and of course the only kid with glasses, I spent practices in mortal terror. There was the coach who would hold a hand missing two fingers in front of my face and say "How come I can throw better than you with this?" There was the chubby kid, now a cop, who punched my arm black and blue every time I stood too close to him. There were the older kids dipping snuff, sending tight streams of dark wintergreen scented spit at my feet. And how could I forget Joshua, the kid with the soft spot in his skull. I was always scared of throwing a ball wide, beaning Joshua and killing him, something he constantly warned was a possibility. "Right here," he would glare and point behind his ear, "get me here and I am dead. D-E-A-D dead. Understand?"
I didn't play much, but it was required I sit in for at least one inning. Because my fielding was terrible I felt I had to make up for it at the plate, and the easiest way to get on base was to simply lean into the pitch and get nailed. One of the coaches would silently encourage me from the bench if I had two strikes. He would lean his head over and give me a thumbs up and wink. I knew that the best strategy was to make it look good, so when I got myself pegged I would always fall to the ground for dramatic effect.
Out in left field there was little I could do right. Being vaguely dyslexic and massively nearsighted didn't help. I had a tendency to daydream and would spend my time in the out on the damp night grass busy trying to identify constellations and would forget to focus on the game. I dropped countless fly balls, had a weak arm, and was generally feckless. But all those little failures contributed to my greatest accomplishment: Big championship game. My inning was up. Two outs and bases loaded. The kid at the plate was a slugger who went on to spend a few years in the minor leagues. I remember praying: "Don't hit it to me. Don't hit it to me. Don't hit it to me..." But of course on the first pitch came the crack of the bat and the ball arced up straight at me. I could see the dismayed faces of my teammates and the people in the stands jumping to their feet. For a moment I was frozen. Then cursing I ran, jumped and stretched and channeled Willie Mays.
The game was won and I had won it.
I was carried around the field a hero. The kid who spit on me was chanting my name, my coaches were jumping up and down hugging each other, my parents were beaming. I knew it would all vanish quickly and I would be runt again in a few days, but it didn't matter because that moment was perfect, so I closed my eyes and just let it wash over me because even then I knew perfection is the rarest of all things.