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I am a baker, like my father before me. One might say that I’m rolling in dough. Okay, that pun was a bit corny, but at least a tad bit funny, I think. But, I am not known for my clever wit. However, I once had quite the athletic ability. I used to play baseball, football, and even could be found playing a little basketball as well. Of them, only one truly was a passion of mine. For years, I practiced, trying to perfect my game. And as I neared 18, it became apparent for all in our small town and even some recruiters that I indeed had some real talent. I could have been a famous baseball player, but just as I was about to get my turn in the big leagues, life took an unexpected turn of events.

At the height of my adolescence, I was famous in our little town in Virginia. The way I threw a baseball really seemed to have people buzzing. Maybe someone would actually make it big and be able to leave this place. Oh not that there was anything wrong with our beloved town, but many did dream of getting away and seeing the big cities. What might it be like to live somewhere with busy streets, bright lights, and imagine, a place where everyone owned a television set. It was definitely the dream that many of us shared. I loved my family, had some friends that I grew up with & considered my brothers, and well this had always been home. There was a part of me that longed to leave, but also a part of me that was afraid to do just that. Maybe it would be too much for me, maybe I wasn’t cut out for city life.

Those fears didn’t stop me from dreaming though. I kept on practicing, determined to show the recruiters what I was made of. I’d become a name that would be on many people’s lips. The nation would know who I was now and for generations to come. I would own the big house, a Ford Mustang or maybe three, and well who knows what else. Though, there was something else I wanted to do with the money I’d surely have and that is take care of my parents. They certainly did all they could to give me everything they didn’t have themselves. They also encouraged my dreams from the very beginning. Their unwavering faith in me had gotten me to where I am and I knew I’d always be indebted to them for that.

As my eighteenth birthday approached, I was anxious. Recruiters had been coming to see me since I was 16. They said I had a talent like none they’d ever seen before. I figured it was only a matter of time before I was officially approached and offered a spot on a professional team. My dad came to every single game I played, no matter the weather, no matter how he felt that day. He suffered from old war injuries and lately, he’d been having headaches every single day. After months of them, he had gone to be seen, but no one could give him any answers. My mother was trying to find a specialist who would come and see him. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she said she’d been saving the money she had earned from the side business she’d started a few years back making dresses for the ladies in town and surely, that would help. I didn’t know that it would be enough, but I did agree that he needed answers, we all did.

At long last, the day had finally arrived. The day that I went from being a boy to a man was here. And as it so happened, tonight was the state championship game. I knew that tonight I had to prove myself in a way that I never had before. Our team was nervous. We knew that all we had done was to bring us to this moment. What would happen? Would we be the victors, with our hometown cheering our names or would we hang our heads in defeat? My mother said that win or lose, she would consider us winners. She constantly told me that she was proud of me, that no matter how this turned out, I’d be a star in her eyes always. Now, that meant a lot to me, though sometimes I wanted to roll my eyes. My mother’s pride and love won’t win our games, won’t get me signed, and won’t take care of me for the rest of my life. Though, I had to remind myself that it was her belief in me, and my dad’s, that has gotten me this far. There were times I wanted to give up when I was a kid, but their faith in me was never shaken. I am glad they pushed me to keep at it. They knew it was what I wanted to do and refused to let my doubts keep me down.

As game time was upon us, our head coach was right there talking to us about strategy and heart. He had always been a big believer in passion needing to be a big part of the game, “If your heart isn’t in it, then you don’t belong here.” He’d been known for saying. All suited up, I was ready to go out to the field to warm-up. My hands were shaking in a way they had never done so before. This was the biggest game of my life and suddenly, I wasn’t so sure of myself. I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and silently prayed to God for strength and courage, not just for myself, but for the rest of our team as well. This game was so important to all of us. It was what we’d worked so hard for all year and not just this season, but the seasons that led up to it. We weren’t the strongest team in the beginning. We had to learn how to work together, how to use our talents to help one another. It wasn’t easy, especially when pride got in the way more than once. But over time, our chemistry developed and so did our friendships with one another. These guys I was about to walk onto the field with weren’t just my teammates, but also my friends & brothers.

You could see it in on all of our faces: fear was definitely there in our hearts, but something more was there as well, determination. We were not about to give up this game without a fight. We wanted this just as much as the other team, perhaps more. Though to be fair, I have no idea what went on in the minds of the other players. All I knew is that this was an important game for me and for a couple other guys who had recruiters to impress. My buddy Scott who was probably the best pinch hitter I’d ever seen and Tyler, the amazing short stop, were also being looked at tonight. The three of us had been talking about this for awhile. How great would it be if all three of us made it to the big leagues? And greater still, though the odds weren’t great, what if we got to play for the same team? I mean, you do what you have to and I ever had to face my friend on the field, I’d do it, but it would be different playing against someone you once played with for years. After reflecting on that for a moment, I switched gears so that I could focus on tonight. Warm-ups were starting for us now.

The time for the warm-ups seemed to fly by. I barely remember that time at all now. I remember walking onto the field for our last warm-ups as a team, looking at each of their faces, silently nodding, taking our stances, and then it all became a blur after that. The next thing I really remember from that night is lining up as a team, preparing for the singing of our national anthem. That night, it was being sung by Grace Benson. I had a few classes with her, but I have to admit I’d barely spoken to her. She was too sophisticated for a guy like me. I liked drinking beers we took from our dads at the lake, staying up all night, getting dirty, catching fish, and tractor pulls. Grace was always the lead of our school plays, head of the debate team, always well dressed and not a hair out of place, and definitely not one you could see chugging a beer; wine was probably more her taste, if she even drank at all.

I knew we weren’t supposed to drink, being underage and all, but it was always harmless. We never drove if we’d been drinking and we always took care of each other. When we were 10, my buddy Tyler lost his older brother because of reckless drinking & driving. His brother and a friend decided to play chicken and it went horribly wrong. Tyler’s brother died two days after the incident and the other boy was paralyzed from the waist down. That day changed a lot for the people in our hometown. I sure like having a beer or two, so do many others here, but we’re sure a lot more careful about things now. For awhile actually, many did stop drinking all together. There were talks of making it a dry town, but I think the stress of it all finally made people break down.

Beer, you know, I think I could use one right now. But, I think I will pass. Indigestion, yeah, beer doesn’t go down like it used to. Back then, it went down real easily. But the night of the game, I didn’t drink. I was determined to be at my very best, we all were. After Grace sang, we all cheered, clapped, put our hats on our heads, and prepared for the start of the game. We took our places out on the field, as we were the home team and would bat second. Okay, I told myself that night, I can do this. I will not let my team down. I looked into the crowd, saw my parents first, smiling and cheering us on. I will not let them down, I thought. And so it began, I wound up to make the first pitch….

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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