“Have I told you my favorite baseball story?” When I heard these words growing up, I knew my dad was about to embarrass me again by telling another stranger his favorite childhood memory of me. Perhaps you have one of these stories as well, the type that always seems to come up every other holiday and always seems to provide some combination of laughter and pride that those who love you most just can’t seem to keep from re-living. Mine happened when I was about 12 years old, playing my second season of little league for the “Phillies,” a small local team from a time when we were still allowed to borrow professional team names.
Growing up, I loved baseball. From the smell of the field to the rush of getting on base, baseball was the thing I looked forward to most. During the four years I played baseball in little league there was really only one thing about baseball that I didn’t like – I was absolutely horrible at it. When I say horrible, I don’t mean that I wasn’t very good. There are many things in life I am not very good at. Baseball was one of those things I can honestly say, fond childhood memories aside, I was legitimately bad at. There was no one in my family who understood the game well enough to teach me how to play, I used an old adult-sized glove that belonged to my dad that was twice the size of every other glove on my team, and I have no memory of playing any other position than far right field (for those of you not familiar with little league, that’s not where they put the best players). Despite it all, I absolutely loved baseball.
One day about halfway through the season my team was deadlocked against the opposing team. By the bottom of the fifth inning neither team had scored a single run and both teams were starting to get anxious for who would break the stalemate. Making matters more tense, my team was undefeated and we were starting to worry that streak could end by a single run if we didn’t start scoring before the other team. This is about the time I got on first base with a strong single to left field and decided I would try something that would change how I played for the rest of my baseball career.
With my team already sitting on two outs and myself standing safely on first base I looked at the opposing team’s pitcher with absolute poise. I had never stolen a base in my life nor did I have any idea how one goes about doing so. I also had no idea that having two team mates on second and third might make the prospect of stealing second…inadvisable. Not having the awareness to know what I did not know, and for some reason having the courage to try something I had not before tried, I simply waited for the pitcher to throw the ball.
Not two seconds after the ball left the pitcher’s hand my foot left first and I headed for second with everything I had. By the time the catcher caught the ball he had more than enough time to do something that would ultimately change the course of the game – he hesitated. Looking at his coach in confusion at what was most certainly a forced out to close the inning, his coach gave a frantic yell for him to “throw the ball!” So he did, straight to first base.
Somewhere between my ignorance, the catcher’s confusion, and the coach’s error, the ball made its way to the one place on the diamond that could possibly allow my act of stealing second base with the bases loaded to somehow work out in our favor. As the first baseman caught the ball he immediately threw it in the direction he must have thought the catcher meant to, allowing the second baseman to catch the ball just in time for the umpire to pronounce me “safe!” Continuing the cascade, the ball made its way to third for another call of “safe,” allowing just enough time for a third call of “safe!” as the catcher received the ball once again just a second too late.
The ball had made its way to each base on the diamond in hasty pursuit of an out that would have likely been assured if the catcher had simply held on to the ball. Instead, we had scored our first run and I had stolen my first base. As the crowd erupted in disbelieving shouts and applause, I had one brief moment of awe as I received their accolades from second base as if I had single-handedly already won the game. I had no idea my team had just scored.
For years, as my father would tell this story to complete strangers we had just met, I would blush with complete embarrassment over having made such a rookie mistake that just happened to work out for the best. When my dad tells the story, though, he doesn’t just talk about a crazy fifth inning. He talks about how proud he is that his son instigated a crazy fifth inning that turned a scoreless game into a high scoring free-for-all where he saw young players make plays he never again saw in any of my games.
I am not particularly proud of how naive I was on that day. Yet I must admit that many of the things I treasure most in life have come from times when I was willing to step off from the base when I did not fully know what would happen. No one likes a scoreless game. Sometimes it takes that decision that no one is thinking – that action that most would believe to be a mistake, to really change how the game is played.
As I prepare to leave the Peak Academy for the next phase of my career, I can only give a humble “thank you” to one of the best teams I have had the privilege to be a part of… that even includes the Phillies, who provided me with my only undefeated season of baseball. I am proud to have been a part of the Peak team and am so thankful to have worked with so many amazing people throughout the entire City and County of Denver.
Thank you for reminding me how important it is to take risks and step off the base, not because we do not know who is on second, but because of how incredibly important it is that the next inning turns out better than the previous one.