It was a Saturday like any other. No school, so I got up a little later. Of course, for a 13 year old, that meant 9 AM instead of 6 AM. After dressing and the obligatory brushing of teeth, I stroll into the kitchen. Mami has cafe con leche ready, along with some toasted Cuban bread. Yeah, Cubans in Miami feed their kids coffee. I am not sure if that contributed to our hyper activity. This is 1980, so ADHD has not become the popular diagnosis for hyper active kids yet. We are just considered annoying young boys. Nothing a day of playing outside won’t fix. As I go to my room to grab my baseball and glove, the realization that today is not a regular Saturday starts to reach my brain.
I was a baseball fanatic as a kid, and as such, was on a Koury League team, our version of Little League in Miami. Our team was in the playoffs that year. I can’t tell you I was the star on the team. I was small for my age, and I was struggling to learn to hit a fastball. I was a decent fielder, and I was progressing as a hitter though. Papi apparently had aspirations of having a Major League baseball player for a son, so he was very involved. I fondly remember seeing him at practice and at games, cheering me on. He had coached little league back in New Jersey, and even helped out with my current team as well. Of course Mami never missed a game. Those years were instrumental in cementing my relationship with both of them.
So in his attempt to help me reach my dream of baseball stardom, Papi had heard of the Charlie Lau batting method. Baseball fans will surely remember George Brett, the star third baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Many will remember his chase of Ted Williams .400 batting average that one year, and the many thrills he gave us during his career. Well, he made the Charlie Lau method famous. It was a method that used the body’s own momentum, and a transfer of weight between the batter’s back and front feet to propel him through the ball. Papi took me to a local batting instructor who taught this method.
The change was pretty significant, not so much because I was suddenly transformed into a superstar, but because of the confidence it gave me. I had a new weapon at my disposal, one that none of the other kids on the team had, and the encouragement I received from Papi and the instructor went a long way. Suddenly I was connecting bat with ball in practice much more frequently, and best of all, the ball was flying off the bat. Where most of my hits had been harmless ground balls, I was now consistently hitting line drives into the outfield.
The game was pretty exciting, going back and forth, no team having the lead for very long. It was the second to last inning and we were behind 4-2. We quickly get two hits, putting men on first and second. Suddenly a quiet ballpark comes alive. We are all standing in the dugout now, unable to contain our excitement. You can feel the energy in the ball park, as the chatter in the bleachers begins to build, parents and fans cheering on their family and friends. We have a chance to win this one now if we keep it going, but we are up against arguably the best pitcher in the league. This kid looks 2 or 3 years older than the rest of us, and I can swear he throws illegal pitches, since every ball seems to have a break in it, which is not allowed in this league. The next batter strikes out, and our hearts deflate. I am now on deck, as the next batter goes to the plate, hoping to be the one to get us back in this game.
Wonderful. This is not the way I had planned it. With two outs and the game on the line, we will have to see what Charlie Lau can do for me. Everyone is cheering me on. I am shaking like a leaf, and I am sure it shows as I move to the plate. The pitcher looks huge. Images of David and Goliath permeate my brain. The coach, probably noticing I am white as a ghost, calls time and calls me to over to talk.
“Ok kid, relax! You can do this. Remember this.. Keep your eye on the ball, and wait for for your pitch. No need to swing at everything. Just meet the ball with the bat ok?”
Henry – he was a great coach. He never yelled, and was never negative. He always had a way of putting me at ease and instilling confidence in me. I step in to the batters box, curling into my new batting position, confident I can make this happen. I am repeating in my head, “Wait for your pitch. Wait for your pitch…” The pitch is thrown, and it is right down the middle, no break in sight. A fastball. I can hear it sizzle as it flies towards the plate. It all slows down now as I unwind my swing. Back foot transfers to front foot, bat follows body, eye follows ball and then…
The ball flies off the bat, directly over the pitcher’s head. The ball reaches the outfield before I even get a chance to run. The runners on first and second were moving with the pitch, and take advantage. Two runners score, and I stop on second.
We are tied 4-4!
I can see Mami screaming, Papi with a huge smile on his face, applauding. My teammates are jumping up and down in the dugout, some of them jumping on the runners as they cross the plate. I am of course serious as a heart attack. I can’t let anyone know that I think this is the absolute best moment of my short life.
“Stay serious John.” I tell myself “ It’s no big deal. Just a normal day at the park for George Brett, No different for you.”
We later scored again, winning the game.
We lost the playoffs that year. But that night – I went home a superstar.