Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Blog Bat-Around: My one MLB appearance
The crowd at The Jake falls into a deafening silence. It pushes against my ears like two massive headphones from the seventies. The PA announcer breaks in, "Now batting for the Indians, Number 4, David Henderson. This is his Major League Debut."
A murmur begins behind home plate, a few random fans around the stadium clap slowly, as if unsure as to whether or not they should be clapping. Soon, a polite round of applause makes its way throughout the venue. It is as though I were Jack Nicklaus making a putt for par when I could have had an eagle. A breeze sweeps across the infield from third to second, kicking up swirls of dust. The fielders seem indifferent to my appearance at the plate.
I make my way from the on-deck circle to the plate without tripping over my own feet or, more likely, a blade of grass. I'm facing Cliff Lee or C.C. Sabathia or one of the myriad other former Tribers playing against the Indians this game. A smirk forms on the pitcher's mouth and he shakes his head, rolls his eyes, and gives a sigh. I adjust my helmet and put the bat back over my shoulder like I've been telling my own children to do for years. The pitcher winds up and I see his arm come over the top.
"STREEEEE-IIIIIKE!" the umpire yells from behind me. I can only assume from the sound of the catcher's glove that the ball actually left the pitcher's hand and traveled the distance to the glove behind and below me. I never saw it, that's for sure. I adjust my helmet again and take a few practice swings, as though showing the pitcher where I'd "like" the ball would make a hill of beans difference.
The pitcher winds and tosses another ball at me. I see this one, but the time my eyes tell my brain to tell my arms to swing, the ball is already on its way back from the catcher to the pitcher, the ump yelling out another, "STREEEE-IIIKE TWO!"
I take a step back out of the box, and tap the dirt from my cleats. Because even without moving an inch, I've managed to get dirt in the spikes. I think it's from trying to dig my own grave in the batter's box. I look at the pitcher as I get back in to the box and shrug my shoulders, hoping he understands that I'm just here to fulfill a dream of playing once, just once in the Bigs. He smiles and nods. I swing the bat to show him where I think I would like hit the ball. He nods again. Was that at me or the catcher? I don't know. The crowd behind me is booing and yelling things like, "What a bum! Get him outta there! Who is this guy anyway!?" There other things being yelled at me, too, but I'm not putting those down here.
All I ever wanted was to stand right where I'm standing, bat in hand, facing a professional ballplayer. I've made it, and no matter what anyone yells or says changes that now. I am the one at the plate, not them. I am the one blessed to be wearing the red, white and blue of an Indians uniform. I am the one whose name just boomed over the loudspeaker. I am the one hoping the pitcher doesn't suddenly decide I'd look better with one less head on my shoulders.
The pitcher shows me the ball, as if to say, "You see this? Watch it. Just keep your eye on it." He raises his eyebrows, asking if I understand. I smile and nod. I put the bat over my shoulder, bend my knees ever so slightly, point my toes at the plate, and dip my shoulder. He winds and comes over the top with what must be the slowest pitch ever thrown in MLB history, and I see it clearly. I raise my forward leg, step slightly toward the mound, and swing.
(Note: The above is fiction. It is my dream. And, what happens next makes no difference in my world. I've already had the best game of my life.)