Ross Dember and Alex Schroeder | Five-feet Nothing
Three innings in May
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 02:10
This week, Five-feet Nothing is kicked back over to Ross, and unlike the last one I wrote, this column has a happy ending for me.
For anyone over the age of 16 who played organized sports as a kid, there is always that one moment or game that brings out the happiness of youth sports that are usually reserved for cereal commercials. They are the moments that erase the strikeouts, errors, air balls and other examples of incompetence. This is one of the few stories from my Little League baseball career that I actually care to remember.
In my hometown, third grade was the first time you got to play real baseball; kids pitched, scores counted and winning mattered. Even if I rarely played more than the mandatory two innings in the infield and was unable to actually hit the ball out of the infield on a fly, I loved being part of a baseball game that actually mattered. However, there was something I really wanted to do: pitch.
Finally, after spending most of the season nagging the coach to let me pitch just one inning, he relented. Before the start of our penultimate regular season game, he told me that I would be pitching the fourth inning, but once I started walking kids or they started hitting home runs over to the first-and-second grade field, he would take me out.
Through the first three innings of the game, I was torn between pure joy and nervousness. I could barely focus on what was happening at the time, which was good because we were down by eight runs when it was my turn to pitch.
After finishing my warm-up, I was set to face the opponent’s worst hitter. The first pitch went behind him, and the next three were not much better, so I found a way to walk the only kid on the other team who was the least bit intimidated to be in the batter’s box against me. After that batter, my whole mindset changed. It was the only time I have ever played organized sports where I did not have even the faintest shred of nervousness.
I remember pitching the forth and fifth innings and smiling the entire time. Because I was skinny even for a third grader, my “fastball” was so slow that gravity turned it into a slow-motion cutter. This led to kids comically whiffing when it crossed the plate, surprised by the pitches’ slowness. When they hit it, the well-placed fielders in the outfield were there to make the catch.
Somehow, my team found a way to score nine runs, and my coach, knowing this would probably be the only time I ever pitched in a Little League game, let me go out in the bottom of the sixth inning to win the game.
Most of the sixth inning remains fuzzy to me except for the final batter. The tying run was on third base, the winning run was on second and there was a full count. I threw one last pitch right over the plate, and the hefty fourth grader just stared at it. As soon as the ump called strike three, the kid burst into tears. He wasn’t crying because he struck out or because he let his team down, he was crying because he had just struck out to the worst pitcher he would ever face. And I remember being surrounded by my teammates, who were acting like I had just clinched our team the World Series championship. For that one night, it felt like I did.