I am nervous; palms sweaty, knees shaking, mouth dry. My nine year old mind is racing as I stand here, knees bent, in my blue and white Coastal Silkscreen uniform, stirrup socks, and plastic cleats.
Here comes the pitch. I gulp and take a giant swing. I hit the ball, only by definition is it a hit, it is pathetic. My hands sting and I watch the ball slowly bounce in the pitcher’s direction. Disappointed, I slowly jog out of the batter’s box and mope down the line.
The pitcher picks up the ball, but wait! He fumbles it, and it falls back to the grass. I start sprinting. It’s going to be close. Again, he picks it up and then throws. “Out!” the umpire yells. It’s a bang-bang play. I could have been safe, I think as I jog back to the dugout. It’s the third out and my teammates hustle to their positions but coach stops me.
Coach G is a giant. His mustache huge. He rips off his mirrored sunglasses and his eyes burn into mine. His arm flies up, startling me as he points to the foul line.
“You see that line? If you want to play on my team, every time you cross it, you will give one hundred percent! You got it?!”
I’m already tearing up. My face is burning. I can’t talk, so I nod in understanding.
“Now get out there, and go warm-up.”
I hustle in the dugout to my hat and glove, then run out to position. It’s my day to pitch - oh, brother! The ball is waiting for me by the rubber and I can barely catch my breath. I’ve never been spoken to with such force and conviction by an adult.
My body is numb and the tears continue to flow while I throw my warmup pitches. With every pitch I feel more and more determined. “100 percent” I say to myself, “I’ll show him 100 percent.”
The first batter comes up; I lean back, kick my leg and fire. “Strike one!” the umpire yells.
I get the ball back, kick and fire again, “Strike two!”
“100 percent, I’ll show him 100 percent” I continue to say to myself. The tears are still coming but, I begin to catch my breath.
The ball feels light in my hand, I wind-up, rock back, and fire, “Strike three!”
My teammates cheer. They stick up their pointer fingers showing one out.
Still determined, I get the ball back. The new batter is ready. I fire. “Strike one!” I fire again and again, “Strike two” and then quickly “Strike three!”
Six pitches, six strikes, two outs.
Again, my teammates cheer. The fans are into it now, yelling from the stands.
The tears are beginning to slow. My body and arms are still numb, but my mind is sharp, “100 percent.”
I get the ball, the new batter is ready. I reach back and let it fly. “Strike one.” My teammates are yelling, slapping their hands to their gloves. The fans are yelling, too.
Again, I get the ball, reach back and fire, “Strike two!”
Now everyone is on their feet. My teammates on the bench are shaking the chain-link in front of them, their fingers hooked to the mesh.
I reach back, kick my leg, and let the ball fly, “Strike three!” the umpire yells.
Everyone cheers. Nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. Unheard of in the Major Leagues, let alone in Little League.
I run off the field into the dugout, still numb and teary.
Coach G is there, standing in the corner of the dugout. I look up at him, still sheepish.
His smile took up his entire face.
Laughing, he nods his head in disbelief and gives me a high-five. Nothing needs to be said.
I exhale and finally I smile too.
From that moment on, and for the next twenty years, I played sports every day. And every time I stepped over that line, whether it baseball, basketball, or soccer, I played as hard as I could; I gave everything I had - all 100%.
His smile. That moment. Coach G. Shaped my life.