April 08, 2008

Chasing Perfection: One boy's search for glory.

The greatest passion I have ever felt is writing. The second greatest passion I have ever felt was pumping a third strike past a little league batter. I played baseball from the ages of 6 to 15. I, a minute lefty, had a tough time finding a position. I hated the outfield; outfielders in little league were nothing more than lonely night watchmen. I spent more time fishing sunflower seeds out of my back pocket and sucking the salt off of them than paying attention to the game. I liked the infield but lefties can only play first base. I was too short to play first base but my scrappy style of play got me a little time at second base with the right coach. I fearlessly stopped ground balls and took away would-be hits. I was a good fielder. I loathed batting. I relied on my diminutive stature to earn me walks. If it came to putting the bat to the ball, I was hopeless. I would take two strikes and then swung at whatever pitch followed. It was chaotic. My true position was pitching. I felt like an artist; slipping a fastball in for a strike was incredibly gratifying. I threw big, looping curveballs that occasionally did exactly what I planned. I didnít throw hard and relied heavily on my ability to confuse hitters to get them out. My hero was Jimmy Key. The last game I pitched was on August 10, 1998; I was given (or stole, the memory eludes me) the game ball. I conducted a masterpiece that day which became the defining moment of my sporting career. Pitching in front of the home crowd (parents and the occasional bored kid) was always my favorite and this was a home game against lowly Cornwall. I knew the mound; I knew where to land my feet and how much rosin would fly into the air if you emphatically threw the bag. I stalked the mound like a Spanish conquistador at Central Field. I pitched 5 innings of perfect baseball; 15 hitters, 15 outs. We lead 9-0. If we scored another run in the bottom of the 5th, the game would end and I would have pitched a perfect game. I prayed for the bottom of the lineup (myself included) to come up heroic. I was too nervous to swing and struck out on three perfect pitches. We had to go out on the field once more. I was heartbroken. I struck the first batter out in the top of the 6th. The second batter hit a small flare at the first basemen. I mentioned that first basemen had to be tall and ours was no exception. He was the only player on the team to hit a homerun that year and he mustíve hit 50. He was our offense. He was, however, not incredibly graceful in the field. The ball caused him to back up to catch it and, in true fashion, his inability to control his legs caused him to trip. In a desperate effort to save face, he threw his glove up and swatted at the ball. It bounced in and out of his glove and landed beside him as he tumbled to the ground. It was a hit. I knew it was a hit. I was not willing, however, to lose my place in history over some fluke hit and took off like a bullet to the dugout where our assistant coach was scoring the game. ďThat was an error, right?Ē I asked. ďIt looked like a hit, David.Ē he replied. "It was in his glove! He just didnít trap it! Thatís an error!Ē We argued for the better part of a minute while our first basemen regained his composure. Sensing that I was not going to pitch again until I got my way, the coach marked the hit as an error and I went back to the mound. I collected two more outs and we ended the inning. We scored again in the bottom half and the game was over. David Fleming, future ace of the Boston Red Sox, had thrown a perfect game. Kinda. The next summer, I got a job and a girlfriend and didnít have time for baseball. Somewhere, Iím sure a Red Sox scout wonders what happened to me. Iím sure he keeps the box score handy in case I resurface. I ought to write them to let them know that I donít think Iíll make spring training. A perfect game sounds like the best way to end a career.

posted by dfleming to commentary at 10:39 AM - 0 comments

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