In the midst of a billowing cloud of dust, the umpire made the call. “Safe!” It was the bottom of the ninth, two outs, and the score was tied with the bases loaded. The hard-fought game now came down to one play. With his bat in his hand, Walt felt a surge of adrenaline course through him as he looked down the line at the third base coach.
Bud’s right hand went to his left ear, then tugged on the bill of his cap. He followed that with a kick in the dirt…the sign for “give ’em the first strike”.
Slowly he approached the plate and dug his cleats into the dirt. After a couple of practice swings, Walt faced the mound and waited as the pitcher went through his motions. It was a high fast ball and he watched it pass by at shoulder height.
Walt rested the bat on his shoulder while the pitcher paced about the mound, then together, they set up again. Walt followed the motion of the windup. It was a pitch he could have hit, and his muscles twitched with the impulse to swing, but he held back.
With the collective moan from the crowd, he turned back toward the coach and saw a new sign-one hand brushing down the shirtfront, then slipped behind the back. He had the go-ahead.
The fans were clamoring for a hit. He dug in again and took a warm-up swing while the pitcher adjusted his cap, then shook off one sign after the other.
This is taking too long.
Walt raised his hand toward the umpire, moved one foot back, waited, then returned to the box.
After shaking off two more signs from his catcher, the pitcher was finally satisfied. Walt watched again as the ball was released. At first it looked good and he started to swing, but then held up. Just as the ball reached the plate, it dropped like a stone, coming across at ankle level. Relief rumbled through the stands as Walt backed out of the box, giving himself time to refocus.
That was a nasty pitch! Now give me something to hit.
Resting the bat against his legs, he dried his hands on his pant, then adjusted his helmet before stepping back to the plate. The familiar feel of the smooth wood in his hands gave him confidence, and he raised his bat, bent his knees, and pulled his elbow back. The pitcher stretched, then fired. The ball curved away, high and outside.
I haven’t had a hit the whole game. Gi’me me a chance to redeem myself. Show me somethin’ good.
With the three and one count, the crowd grew louder. Walt took his stance. The pitcher bounced the rosin bag in his hand, then dropped it behind him and found his spot. Walt waited as the pitch was delivered, his muscles tense, prepared to swing, but knowing a walk would win the game. The inside pitch was close but maybe a little low, and with a mighty resolve he let it go by, then waited for the call.
The groan from the fans echoed his own thoughts.
Full count. One more chance...
He stepped back, flexing his taut shoulder muscles, then twisting from the waist, first one way, then the other to relax his tense back. Moving forward, he dug in one more time. The crowd was on its feet now, and rhythmically chanting, “Wal-ters! Wal-ters!” With his heartbeat pounding in his ears, he waited, his senses heightened. One last time, the pitcher wound up. Walt watched the release, recognizing the spread of the fingers. The ball flew toward the plate. He waited, restraining himself, watching for the movement. There it is! I knew it! The ball curved away, high and outside, just like he expected.
With a great roar from the crowd, Walt excitedly trotted to first as the other runners advanced, breaking the tie and ending the game.
Walt joined in the celebration all the way back to the dugout. His hitting streak was over, but tonight, one walk was enough.
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