So a guy goes 0-for-1,652 days, and…
I guess I don’t know how to start this story so I’ll start from the beginning, and then I’ll make several terrible switches between third and first and second person and I don’t care.
First, A mediocre ballplayer goes overseas and plays pretty well. He comes back for grad school, tears his knee up, and a bunch of impossibly incompetent surgeons screw his knee up so bad with a staph infection that he feels goddamn near suicidal, fears losing the leg, and wonders whether he’ll ever play ball again.
Then he does the Rocky montage rehabbing that knee (hey, let’s make it absurd and say FIVE YEARS), and woos the girl; but first, for the screenwriters, let’s make it over the top and make her live through his periods of abject depression when he thinks he’ll never play ball again on account of his mangled knee.
He comes back to his old team – the mere thought of which made him work so damn hard trying to rehab in the first place – and he’s not getting any at-bats, but he gets the start on a shorthanded day at Moscone hitting tenth. Takes a walk in the 3rd, and a fastball off the left shoulder blade in the 5th… and steps in, two outs, seventh inning, man on first. Takes a fastball down for a strike, a curveball away for a ball, and
Oh, my. Does the ball soar and your legs pump and you hope. You almost weep with the possibilities because for once – for once in FIVE YEARS – you are running, sprinting to first and hoping that even though you hit that ball high, VERY HIGH, the ball will fall on grass, not the leftfielder’s glove. And then? When you are one step from first base and you glance at the first base coach (one of your groomsmen, of course) and all he can say is “EVAN : RUN FAST”?
Well, you do that. You run fast, in that weird toe-first gallop that your lack of confidence in the surgically repaired knee has inspired, turning towards second until you see him for the first time: the left fielder. He is pumping his arms and sprinting just as hard as you, but YOU HAVE A TWO BASE HEAD START.
You cannot be caught at this point. This is math; this is physics. You have hit the ball to the softball infield on the other side of the diamond, just hours after telling your groomsman that if a ball hits there on the fly it will never stop rolling, that the batter could do the Electric Slide to home plate and still score.
But your brain does not understand this, or won’t believe it. In a related story, it has been 1,652 days since your last hit.
So you keep sprinting and you score easily, only to discover much later that the left fielder never even picked up the ball, as the umpire was already waving his finger around to signal a home run.
The funny thing is, though, you have imagined this moment. Maybe not for 1,652 days, but certainly for 1,200 or so. You wondered when – or more accurately, whether – that first hit would ever come. And in your mind it was exactly like this, you sprinting, the fielders running haplessly , trying to cut you down. But it didn’t happen for the first few games and suddenly you got salty and bitched to yourself about how you knew you could do it, you just needed at-bats. It was frustrating; why couldn’t your comeback just be the way you pictured it? Like last inning of The Natural?
And you didn’t know what you would do if it happened like that. Would you weep? Would you throw a tantrum about how that was proof you weren’t getting the playing time you deserved?
As it turns out, you did none of those things. You threw up. The adrenaline, the euphoria, the swallowing of chewing gum was too much, and you vomited on the floor of the dugout. Don’t worry though; I think Hank Aaron did that sometimes after big dingers, so it’s probably cool.
After the game, you walked it off at between 350 and 375 feet. You never hit a ball that far in five years in the *aluminum* bat league, and certainly never did in France. Sure, there’s the magic of hitting a ball EXACTLY on the sweet spot, but as your friends soon imply over a beer, there was probably a lot of rage playing a role in that swing.
You don’t care about that. You just feel an almost drunken sense of happiness, relief, and vindication. And as you light a cigar to cap off the victory Red Auerbach style, you feel, for the first time since the ACL tear, whole again.