This is about the pitfalls of a superstar athlete who is trying to remain true to himself.
| At practice that afternoon Teddy was hammering the ball out of the park and A.J. was burning up the base paths. But when it came to his glove work A.J. still had a lot to learn and he struggled a bit in the field. After several bobbled balls A.J. became upset and started to walk off the field but as he headed to the dugout he saw Teddy standing at 1st base. Teddy flashed a look of disapproval at him that said don’t even think of walking off this field. A.J. went back to his position at 2nd and continued to try his best until the end of practice.
The boys had showered and changed without saying a word and then walked to the bike rack without so much a clearing their throats. There was an unexplained tension that could be cut with a knife but neither boy wanted to make the incision. On the ride home there was an eerie silence between the lads that could only be compared to the suspenseful moment in a horror movie just before the killer attacks his next victim.
"Teddy, are you mad at me for what happened at practice"?
"What? I thought you were mad at me for not letting you quit".
"I wasn’t gonna quit. I just needed to take a break.
You sure it never entered your mind"?
"Well…maybe for a second but that’s all. I like baseball. I just had no idea how hard it really was".
"Are you kidding? You’re a natural"!
"Look you have the talent to be one of the best you just need to hone your skills. Your technique is lagging a bit but that’s because most guys have been playing as far back as they can remember. You decided to become a superstar overnight so it makes sense that you’re behind the curve".
"Do you really think I can be one of the best on the team"?
"On the team? Buddy you’re thinking to narrow! With my help one day you are gonna become one of the greatest players ever! Just don’t forget the little people when you reach the top of the mountain okay"?
From that point on Teddy and A.J. stayed an extra hour after each practice and conducted their own training session. Teddy dissected A.J.’s swing and was able to identify the major holes. Once that was accomplished it was just a matter of time before A.J.’s swing was almost flawless. And as his confidence at the plate grew so did his dexterity in the field. His instinct improved to extraordinary status and to watch him track down the ball was like being able to see Divinci paint the Mona Lisa or stand next to Franklin as he discovered electricity. You knew you were in the presence of greatness and it was only a matter of time before everyone else knew it too.
Teddy benefited from the additional training as well. At the end of each day the boys would run a mile. At first it took Teddy almost 20 minutes to complete the run but as A.J. progressed so did Teddy. Thanks to the running and the teams regular weight lifting routine Teddy lost 15 lbs. of fat and defined his burly build. Teddy dropped his mile time to 9 minutes and 10 seconds and added more power to his swing. Teddy was now a legitimate threat to knock the ball out of the park on every plate appearance. And if an opponent walked him to try and avoid his bat then he could surprise them from time to time by stealing a base.
The team struggled as a whole over the first few games. They lost the season opener by a score of 8 – 1. The team had a total of 4 hits – 2 of which were doubles by Teddy and 1 was a bloop single by A.J. The second game was better but they still got embarrassed. They only aloud 2 runs but the team had 6 errors, 5 walks and 2 hit batters. After the game the coach kept the team on the field and they practiced until the sun vanished behind the western horizon. The last thing the coach said before releasing the boys seemed like a lecture at the time but it turned out to be a motivator.
“Okay boys so we lost our first 2 games. Fine – I certainly don’t expect to win them all but what I do expect is hard play and discipline from each one of my players. That includes everyone from the starters to the bench players. The only way to be successful is to give everything you’ve got all the time. If you slack up in the slightest you will fall flat on your face. And there is nothing wrong with an occasional fall – it’s how fast you get back up that counts. Now I suggest that if you still want to be a member of this team then you stop sitting on your brains and show up at practice tomorrow ready to start our season”.
The next day the team showed up at practice and while they were getting dressed the locker room was alive with chatter. There seemed to be a carefree air about the boys as they changed into their practice gear. Without anyone noticing the coach peeped into the locker room and a devilish grin grew across his face. When the boys came out onto the field nothing was said about the previous day. It was as if the game and the speech that followed never took place.
However, the difference was evident even to the most unknowledgeable sports fan. The team had its best practice yet and from that point they went on a 15 game win streak and only committed 1 error during that span. Teddy was hitting the cover off the ball and had 12 homeruns and 27 runs batted in. A.J. had reached base safely in 36 straight at bats. He also managed to steal 21 bases without being caught. He led the team in steals, on base percentage and runs scored. The rest of the team was equally as impressive and one of the outfielders was even promoted to the varsity team for the remainder of the season.
The team festered into a juggernaut and only lost 6 more games all year. They breezed through the regional playoffs and went to the state championship where they played a team from Pittsburg and struggled a bit. The offense couldn’t score a run to save their lives but the pitching and defense were masterful.
In the top of the ninth inning the score was still tied at zero. A.J. walked and then was bunted over to second base. A sacrifice fly moved him to third and with 2 outs they walked Teddy on 4 straight pitches. As the next batter dug in at the plate the first base coach ran through the signs and A.J. began studying the pitcher very intently. The pitcher walked around the mound several times before he was ready to face the next batter. Teddy had a commanding lead off 1st and A.J. quietly stretched his distance from the bag at 3rd.
The first pitch was a ball high and away. And the runners had to return to their respective bases. Once again Teddy had a monster lead off 1st but he was not the runner that the pitcher needed to worry about. He could have burned a hole in A.J.’s uniform with the intense stare he used to focus on 3rd base. When he saw that A.J. wasn’t moving more than a step or two away from the bag he turned his attention back on Teddy. When he did that it was all over! As the pitcher came set Teddy broke for 2nd base in an apparent steal attempt. The pitcher rotated his body towards 1st and as he began to throw over he caught A.J. out of the corner of his eye. A.J. took off from 3rd and left a cloud of dust where he stood only moments ago. Teddy dove back towards 1st and in that instant of distraction A.J. tried the unthinkable – stealing home!
The pitcher figured he could still nab the slower runner at 1st and end the inning before the run scored so he fired a bullet to the 1st baseman but Teddy beat the tag by a fingertip. A.J. was picking up steam as the 1st baseman aimed his throw at the anxious catcher. The ball and the runner seemed to be on a collision course for home plate. A.J. slid head first just as the ball reached the catcher’s glove. He turned to apply the tag but it was too late. A.J.’s hand was already sliding across home plate and the umpire yelled “SAFE!”
The batter who was at the plate when all this excitement broke loose dug back in and tried to stretch the lead but he chased an inside curve that caused him to ground out to short and end the inning. Bottom of the ninth was poised to be an epic battle. The Pittsburg team had scored more runs and hit more homers than any team in the playoffs and the heart of their order was due up. The gods however did not see things in their favor because all 3 struck out without even making contact with the ball.