2020…the year that Covid took so much away from us. But as always, most clouds have those silver linings we can find if we look hard enough, and in this case, something good came out of the restrictions, something that would never have happened had times been ordinary – my grandsons were together on the baseball field, playing the game they love. The difference in their ages had meant that as one was leaving the team in his senior year, the younger one would not be playing until the start of next season. They would never have played a high school game together.
The cancellation of the spring baseball season was a bitter disappointment. Coming off a third-place finish in the state championships the prior year, the graduating seniors mourned the loss of the chance to repeat and exceed their record.
A third-place finish? Respectable but hardly noteworthy. Until you consider that this small-town school had never had even a district win in baseball, much less facing off and defeating their Goliath in sectionals, powering through as underdogs in the quarterfinals, and gaining a spot in the Final 4.
‘…Seymour, who are you?’ mused the sportswriter in the O-Zone, the source for all regional sports news.
But nonetheless, in spite of lockdowns and restrictions, here we are at the ballfield on an absolutely picture-perfect day.
The sky was an unbroken blue, the grass of the outfield a brilliant green and crisp white lines formed a perfect square on the flawless ground of the infield. One last time the graduating seniors in their maroon jerseys over blindingly white pants spilled out onto the field, flowing to their positions as effortlessly as water.
Coach Jason Duey, a kind and thoughtful man, had arranged a final game to honor the seniors and their parents, one game to be all the games they had missed for the season – with one difference. The incoming freshmen would be on the team with the outgoing seniors.
It started, as games do in small towns all over the heartland of America, with the National Anthem. The contestants and spectators alike stood at attention with hats and hands over their hearts. Perhaps that day, it meant even a little bit more, knowing that in a few days Nathan would be leaving, honoring his commitment to defend that flag and the country it stood for. But today, he was still a high school boy, doing what he had done countless times before with his friends and teammates.
And then the anticipation, as the first batter steps up to the plate, the pitcher winds up for his first throw and the umpire makes his emphatic calls.
Pop flies, grounders, foul balls, strikes. The game played out with mechanical precision, predictable until it wasn’t. Runs were scored, players advanced base by base, often in a lightning flurry of motion and dust as players dove under the throw and the crowd waited for the umpire’s decision. In the last inning, a wild throw by the pitcher struck Brayden and moved him to first. Another play advanced him to second, batter out. It was a bittersweet moment when Nathan, in his #10 jersey stepped up to the plate for his last at-bat as a Seymour Tiger.
What was the count? I don’t remember, it is lost in the sound of the bat connecting with the ball, the heart stopping, unmistakable sound that says the perfect connection was made between ball and bat, the sweet spot had been found, that the physics controlling two objects colliding at high speed was going to reach its maximum projection.
The photos show Nathan’s face as he completed his swing. He knew it was good. There was pandemonium in the stands as the white ball with its red stitching sailed gracefully into the sky, hanging motionless at the apex of its flight for a split second before continuing its descent over the fence.
Brayden scored from second as Nathan jogged the bases. In the one and only game that they would ever play together, the unlikely odds that the two brothers would be the only players involved in that home run, had been beaten.
Small things? In the grand scope of life, yes, but for two brothers, it is a special moment that they will always remember.