The bases were loaded with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and final inning. We were losing by a score of 16-12, the kind of score common to the 10- to 11-year-old age division, where the kids are enthusiastic about hitting and making errors in the field, as many errors as they can possibly make. I was up to bat. The pitcher could throw hard, but he was wild; my plan was to be patient and wait for something I could hit.

I wasn't expecting the first pitch to be a meatball right down the pipe, and I swung too late. Strike one.

Okay. New plan: Don't be a wuss. Swing the damn bat.

The next pitch was also right down the middle of the plate, but it was also a foot above my head. I swung, hard, and immediately felt very stupid. Strike two.

I heard my dad in the crowd: "C'mon! Don't swing at that junk!" It occurs to me now that it probably wasn't cool for my dad to be calling a 10-year-old pitcher "junk." This comment notwithstanding, he wasn't a typical, aggressively enthusiastic Little League parent. In fact, his work schedule meant he could only come to about half of my games, and I knew how little time he had off from work, and I recognized even at that age that my dad was making a certain kind of sacrifice showing up to these awful games instead of catching up on sleep and mentally preparing to go back to a grueling job he hated.

(Much later, during the first Christmas my sister-in-law had with us, she asked my dad why he worked all those years at this horrible place that didn't pay particularly well. "I got two boys to feed," he said immediately, and I wonder if my brother felt the same stab of guilt that I did.)

So I felt some extra pressure to play well in games he attended. Things have probably not turned out how you wanted, on the whole, but hey, I got a hit.

The next pitch was about at eye-level; a bad pitch. I swung the bat about at eye-level; an unwise swing. Nevertheless, the bat hit the ball, and it felt like I had swung a sword through a glob of hot butter, and that's how I knew before I started running that I had done well. The liner screamed into the opposite field and made it to the wall on a bounce. As I rounded second, I watched The Smallest Kid Ever To Play Outfield attempt to hit the cutoff man only to come up about 500 feet short. The third-base coach sent me home, and I made it standing up: an inside-the-park grand slam with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the final inning to tie the game. My teammates were cheering, the crowd was cheering - even the parents of kids on the other team were cheering, at least in my head today they are. My dad was cheering.

We won a couple batters later, 17-16. My dad took me to the gas station for my traditional post-game Gatorade. The next day he went back to work with a scowl on his face, and I went back to being a mediocre baseball player.

—-

A couple years later, I was in the Babe Ruth division, the last youth league before all the good players went out for high school ball and all the bad players unceremoniously quit. I had regressed from "middling player who is okay in the field and occasionally hits game-tying grand slams" to "hey kid, have you ever played baseball before, or even seen a baseball." This is due to a number of factors: Everyone was getting bigger, and they seemed to be getting bigger faster than I was; I was solidly a Huge Nerd at that point and was more concerned with video games and homework than baseball; and, most of all, I had stopped having fun a long time ago. I dreaded games and practices and I didn't get along with my teammates and the coach was a huge asshole who yelled at us and made a kid run sprints until he passed out because the kid sat down in the outfield during practice once, and also that kid was me.

I fucked up a lot that year, when I even played, which wasn't often. But one particular fuck-up is indelibly etched into my memory, and I still feel a wave of nausea and shame when I think of it.

Once again, it's the last inning of the game with two outs. We were losing; I forget the score. But we were rallying. Somehow, I had ended up on third base, and there was definitely a runner on second, and I swear to Almighty God that there was a runner on first. I might have been an utter non-athlete who would rather be doing anything else as long as "anything else" involved air conditioning, but I was always aware of the game situation, and the situation was: Me on third with the bases loaded, and there was especially a runner on first, no doubt about it.

The batter drew a walk, and, as one does when one is on third with the bases loaded and the batter walks, I began to trot home. I was maybe halfway there when the other team's coach starts yelling at the catcher; the catcher sees me and throws the ball to the pitcher, who at this point is standing next to me on the basepath, which I thought was weird at the time, why would the pitcher be all the way out here on the third base line, and then he tagged me and the umpire said I was out and the game was over.

"WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!" Coach Asshole screamed in my face.

"I thought..."

"PAY ATTENTION TO THE GAME!!" He had very obviously wanted to say "fucking game." I began to cry. This mentor of young boys made a noise of disgust and walked away. A few seconds later, I heard him talking with the other team's coach, who said: "I've never seen a game end like that, have you?" To which my coach responded: "Nope. This is what happens when everybody has to play an inning, I guess."

Hilariously, that was the end of the first game of a double-header. I don't remember much of the second game; surely, I was terrible.

My dad wasn't at the game because of work. My mom promised she wouldn't tell him what had happened. When he got home that night - in a relatively joyful mood, since he had a week's vacation ahead of him - he asked me how the games had gone.

"Pretty good," I lied.

"That's good. I'll be at the next one, I'm off all next week."

"Hey, Dad? I don't think I want to play baseball next year."

"You don't? Well, that's okay. You've been playing a long time. You do what you want." Then he tousled my hair and told me he was proud of me.