because I said so

    When I was in sixth grade, my class played our school’s other sixth grade class in a softball game. This was not just any softball game, but a heated rivalry between two classes of bitter enemies. Winning that game was the most important thing in any of our young lives.

    Winning the game would give us bragging rights for the rest of the school year. To lose would mean shame and humiliation for the rest of our lives — or at least until the big basketball game.

    As we entered the bottom of the seventh — we were only going seven innings — it did not look good for our team. We were down by three runs with the bottom of our order coming up. I was due up sixth in the inning.

    In my mind’s eye, I could see myself getting the storybook ending and getting the game-winning hit with two outs. I really wanted to be the hero. You know how they say to be careful what you wish for? Well, I was about to find out just what they mean by that.

    Through some miracle, our last batter in the order, a big-boned boy named Oscar, roped a single to deep center. It probably would have been a triple for anyone else, but Oscar was a large fellow. That miracle was followed by two singles that loaded the bases with two out and us down by three. Guess who came up next.

    I remember being surprisingly calm as I strode to the plate. I stepped into the batter’s box and did my best to look tough. I kicked dirt all over the freshly dusted home plate, which only angered my teacher, who had to come out and clean it again.

    As the first pitch left the pitcher’s hand, I was completely focused. The cheers of my fellow classmates were muted by my extreme concentration. The background seemed to blur as I remained focused on the ball. I took a giant step and uncorked a Herculean swing. Had I made contact with that ball, it would still be going. As it happened, it was an embarrassing whiff and strike one.

    After uttering an impressive display of expletives to myself for missing an underhand pitch, I regained my composure and took my stance for the second pitch.

    As the pitch was released, I could feel every muscle in my body working as one. The contact was so sweet that I hardly felt it. The perfect hip turn and extension of the arms were a hitter’s dream. I knew it was gone from the moment it left my bat. What I didn’t know was where it would end up.

    Before I go on, I need to describe the field that I was playing on. I lived in a small town. Our elementary schools didn’t have actual baseball fields: They had weed patches with bases and rusted backstops. Deep in the outfield, far beyond where the normal outfield fence would have been, was a row of portable classrooms. It was a hot summer day, so these classrooms had their doors propped open. Back to the story.

    Once I hit the ball, I immediately broke into a home run trot. I rounded the bases as slowly as I possibly could, reveling in the glory of my heroics. What I had failed to notice was that I smoked the ball straight into one of those portable classrooms. This was a special education classroom that I had interrupted.

    The special ed teacher didn’t like the fact that a softball struck him in the leg as he was trying to help a girl in a wheelchair go to the bathroom. I got that impression when he ran out of the classroom screaming and launched my home run ball back onto the field.

    Since our field had no home run fence, the ball was technically still live. I had only busted my home run trot because I thought that the chubsters in center field could never get to that ball before I crossed home. I hadn’t counted on a little help from the special ed teacher.

    I was between second and third when I saw the ball being relayed in from deep center. It was time to put on the jets if I wanted to score the winning run.

    Still wanting to be the hero, I ran right past our third base coach who was screaming at me to stop. I raced toward the plate just as the shortstop was making the throw home.

    I, of course, was safe — did you really think I’d tell that long-ass story if I had been out? We won the game and I was carried off the field and worshipped as a hero for the next few days. It was great fun.

    The purpose of my story is to convince you to go out and participate in sports on campus. There is nothing in the world like the thrill of competition and having fun with some friends.

    Maybe you’ll be the one carried off the playing field next time. You’ll never know if you just sit around in your room all day.

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