When I played baseball in high school I remember a talk the coach, another player, and myself had prior to our first conference game of the season. The other player was our leadoff batter. He was fast and in practice could spray the ball to any field easily for a base hit. I was not as fast of a runner, nor did I hit as well as he did. However, for some reason, he was struggling in our non-conference schedule and I was getting on base regularly whether by walks, hits, or fielding errors.
I could go in to a number of reasons why this occurred. One, the other player admitted he was extremely nervous leading off. My role was to take pitches to give any runners on base a chance to test the catcher’s arm to set into motion our base running plans. Even with the bases empty, I stayed in that frame of mind, and it allowed me to get to base by taking bad pitches.
Our meeting was to inform the two of us we would be switching batting positions. As the leadoff batter, I had to get on base. No matter what our third base coach would signal, I had the green light to steal second base whenever I felt I had an advantage. Again, the goal was to test the catcher’s arm so we would know how aggressive we could be when on the base paths.
Each evening leading up to that first conference game I would fall asleep envisioning that very first at bat. I would watch the opposing pitcher during warm-ups to determine what pitches to look for. The umpire would signal the last warm-up pitch and the catcher would toss it back to the second baseman as the ball would flow around the horn and back to the pitcher. “Play ball!” the umpire would grunt loudly motioning towards the field.
In real life, those steps played out exactly as planned. The pitcher threw a lot of curve balls during warm-ups and I planted my feet squarely towards the front of the batter’s box. “Let’s see what you’ve got,” I thought to myself. I could see the break in the pitcher’s wrist as he released the first pitch. The seams of the baseball grabbed air as it rotated towards me. I clearly saw the curve ball was on the way and could tell where the break would occur. Instinctively the bat reached out across the plate making contact with the rawhide. The ball hugged the barrel just before launching down the third base line. The angle was right and I watched the ball sailing towards the outfield. As I neared first base I watched the ball clear the outfield fence by about 20 feet.
“Foul ball,” the umpire called out as he waved his arms towards the other team’s dugout down the third base side of the field.
Although the ball was foul, I had played the moment through my head so many times that nothing in the scenario up that point was foreign or surprising. I was confident in the moment. I was ready. For full disclosure, I struck out on the next two pitches as the pitcher had a heck of a fastball that I could not catch up to standing there in the front of the batter’s box.
Now, nearly 30 years later, I lay down at the end of the evening doing much the same thing. There I am, in my tree stand with hours to go before sunrise. I hear crunching below as a couple of does and a fawn chew on the corn in the field. The moonlight catches something way out in the field, however it is still much too dark to see what it is. Or is it? No, I can see now that the light is glistening of a couple of tree limbs.
No, wrong again. Those are antlers. They are moving towards the stand. As he approaches I can only hope he hangs around until day break. The nervousness departs as I become comfortable watching this beautiful specimen establish his alpha dominance over the smaller bucks coming in.
And I fade off into my dreams of the night.
You may think to yourself, “Bill, this mental preparation dreaming didn’t work too well for you 30 years ago as you struck out.”
Yes, but I finished the game with two hits and three stolen bases.