Crack, crack, crack. The sound of my cleats against the dirt was the only thing I could hear as I walked out to the mound for the final game of my high school career. I knew there were college scouts in the crowd, but I couldn’t see them. I only knew that they were out there watching my every move, and I needed to perform well if I want to be offered a college scholarship.
I grabbed the ball next to the mound and got ready to start my warm-ups. I felt pretty good and I thought that I was going to have a pretty good game if I stayed focused.
The umpire gave a loud “Batter up!” to start the game. I stepped onto the mound and threw my first pitch for a strike. And then I struck all the other batters out. I jogged back to the dugout to get cheered for by all my teammates. I couldn’t get over the excitement welling up inside of me, but I couldn’t let it get to my head. I still had 5 more innings to pitch.
I headed out to the mound for the second inning after my team scored 2 runs. My heart was beating from a mix of worry and excitement. I was doing well but I needed to keep it up. I got onto the mound to start the inning, when I froze. I saw a man step out from behind the bleachers. A man I recognized as my father. His short black hair, blue eyes, and the jacket I gave him a few years earlier.
I called time and stepped off. I hadn’t seen my father in 2 years since he and my mom had split up. He used to come to all of my games, but that was the first time since then. Why hadn’t he warned us? The umpire made me snap out of it by yelling at me to get back on the mound.
I tried to continue the game as if I hadn’t noticed anything, but with him standing right behind the backstop it was difficult. The first pitch I threw went 5 feet over my catcher’s head. I had to calm down. I couldn’t let something like seeing my dad derail me. Especially not with scouts in the crowd.
I threw another pitch and that time it bounced in the dirt. I clenched my fist and tried not to show my frustration. I was letting something as simple as seeing someone I knew let me become unfocused. My coach called out “Hey! You ok out there?” I nodded and tried not to show that I was actually not ok.
My coach left me alone for the rest of the inning and I was able to get through it, but not without letting the other team get a run on the board. I got back into the dugout and took a seat on the bench. I took a quick drink of water and try to get my head together. I had no idea why it was bothering me. I could talk to my dad after the game. I had other things to worry about.
I could see my dad from where I was sitting on the bench. I tried to get his attention but he was watching the game. I couldn’t go talk to him because of the league’s rules, so I knew I’d just have to wait until the end of the game.
I got so lost in watching my dad that I didn’t even realize that I had to go out onto the field to start the 3rd inning. I checked the scoreboard on my way out and saw that my team had scored another run. With a two run lead I thought I might be able to relax and just pitch. If I was going to impress the scouts I was going to need to pitch a complete game.
When I started pitching, I started to think about the old days when my dad watched my games. He used to be the loudest parent out there. Cheering me on and rooting for the team even if we were losing. Now he’s just silent. Watching me. I can’t tell if he’s happy to see me or if he thinks it was a waste of his time coming here, but I can’t be thinking about these things. My team needs to win.
I made it through the 3rd inning without allowing a run, but I was not how much I have left in me. I needed 3 more innings.
I started getting unfocused again on the bench. I started thinking about how my mom would react if she saw he was here. Again I started getting more and more out of the game. By the time I went onto the field for the 4th inning I didn’t even know what the score was.
Him being here has caused me so much trouble. I just had so many questions. My mom and I don’t even know where he went when he left. He just disappeared. I made it my goal to finish and win the game as quickly as possible so I can get the answers I want from him.
I began to think about it too much and I started making mistakes. Hit after hit after hit they got off of me. I couldn’t believe I was letting it happen and neither could my team. I was throwing the game and it was all because my dad was standing there.
I eventually made it through the inning but I let the other team get within 1 run.
When I got back into the dugout my coach approached me again and that time wouldn’t take “I’m fine” for an answer. “What’s up. You haven’t pitched that terribly all season. I know something is wrong.” I tried to avoid eye contact as I pointed out my father in the crowd. He saw and I instantly knew that he understood.
“You know what,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about him being here. You can only just continue playing the game.” I nodded and I knew he was right. That was all I could do.
Going on to the mound in the 5th inning, I had one thing on my mind: finish the game. I was able to strike out 3 straight batters and I felt confident that I could do well and get the game done quick. I kept anticipating the conversation I would have with him. What do you say to someone you haven’t seen in 2 years? I really didn’t know what to say to him.
Going into the 6th inning I almost knew the game is over. We were up by 4 and it was the bottom of the lineup, and just as i expected, I struck out three in a row. I shake hands with the other team and rush off the field, ignoring all of the fans and other people congratulating me and trying to stop and talk to me.
I saw my dad walking away towards his car and I had to sprint to catch up with him. I grabbed him from behind and he turned around and smiled. I remembered the smile from many times before. I couldn’t even get a single word out of my mouth. I tried to say something but before I could he said “Good game son,” and walked away. I was still stunned as he walked away and drove off in his car yet again, leaving me unsure of when I would see him again.
My coach came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. I’m sure you’ll see him again someday.” I hoped he was right. As it turns out, he was. My coach then left to go celebrate. I decided to stop worrying about it and go join them and the many scouts rushing to meet me.