Conner has struggled all year with baseball. Not with his play, which has been really good for a first-year player, but with how seriously he takes things. I place no expectations on him for each game other than to play hard and have a good time. Get a hit or strikeout. Catch the ball or miss it. Just play hard and have a good time. Nothing else matters.
But it does to him.
Every chance he has to play matters to him. He takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. A strikeout to him is devastating. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we try to convince him that he’s doing well. And trust me, we’ve been trying.
Tonight, during batting practice, the coach decided to try a different stance for him. It worked wonders for his hitting. The first time up he hits a single and then made it home a few plays later. He started the season batting .500 but has since dropped a little. It was nice to see him more confident at the plate.
Unfortunately the rest of the team just wasn’t hitting tonight. It happens sometimes. Baseball teams can just hit strikeout slumps. Tonight was that night for us. If we scored five runs in the final inning, we would tie the game up. Conner was due up to bat third in the inning. I was nervous about the potential last out being in his hands.
Jace, who’s having a rough night, is the first kid up and strikes out.
The second kid up, Bryce, take a few pitches then hits a great shot and makes it to first base.
One out, runner at first.
Then comes Conner. I want him to get a hit so he can end the game on a high note. He takes the first two pitches. He has three pitches left and the coach tells him to swing at all of them. Two more pitches, two more swings, two more strikes. Last pitch. He has to swing no matter what.
I watched as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. Conner began to turn his hips and bring the bat around. It connected perfectly and was driven down the third base line. Conner ran as I prayed it would stay fair.
It did. One out, runners at first and second.
Dane walks to the plate. Another rough night, another strike out.
Two outs, runners at first and second.
Here comes Charlie. Charlie can get some good hits, and he does. He smashes the ball into shallow right field. He is safe at first. Conner is safe at second but it looks like Bryce might be thrown out at third. The throw comes in high and goes over the third baseman’s head.
The coach waves Bryce home and tells Conner to take third. Conner runs harder than I’ve ever seen him run. He kicks up dirt as he goes. The left fielder picks up the ball and turns to throw it to third. It’s going to be close. Conner’s extra burst of speed from deep down drives his legs and, almost in slow motion, he runs for the bag as the ball comes in.
His left foot touches the bag a second before the third baseman catches the ball.
The crowd roars.
His right foot goes past the bag and lands on the dirt.
His left foot follows off the base.
The third baseman tags him for the final out after he leaves the base.
In unison, the crowd’s cheer turns into a long, disappointed “aaawwwww.”
Conner looks around not knowing what happened, but the coach’s angry reaction tells him it was bad. He had never been in that situation and didn’t know you had to stay on the base or you could be tagged out. Now he knows. He also knows that was the final out of the game.
He breaks down in tears when he realizes what he did.
I want to cry for him.
Two great hits for the game and all he’ll remember is the heartbreak at third base.