The Home Run

By David Armstrong

The coach strode across the baseball diamond to reach Tom, the rookie warming up in left field. “How are you feeling today, Tom?”

Tom grinned his boyish gin. “Great, coach. I’m feeling really good. In fact, I’m feeling so good, you might as well tell the rest of the team to just sit the bench. I think I can handle this whole game by myself.”

The coach chuckled. “Well, I’ll probably send the other guys out anyway, just in case. They need the practice.”

“Okay, coach, whatever you say. But I’ve got a feeling this is my day!”

In the bottom of the first inning, with the score 0–0, Tom struck out to retire the side. In the second inning, he bobbled two pop flies in a row, allowing two runners to score. In the sixth inning, with his team behind by two runs with two men on base, Tom struck out again.

On the other hand, Tom’s teammate John, the catcher, was having an excellent day both behind and at the plate. He had picked off a guy trying to steal second base and tagged out a runner sliding into home. At bat, John hit a double, sacrificed to drive in a run, and laid down a perfect bunt to get himself on base and advance another runner.

Now it was the bottom of the ninth inning, the home team behind by three runs, two outs, the bases loaded. Tom hangs his head and leaves the on-deck circle to talk to the coach, who is standing in the dugout. “Maybe you ought to send in a pinch hitter. I don’t think this is my day after all.”

“Ah, come on, Tommy boy. Where’s that pregame confidence? You said you could handle this game all by yourself.”

“Yeah, I was stupid. But you already knew that. So, I’m here to tell you I don’t think I can do this. You need a sure thing in the clutch. I’m not your guy.” Tom starts to take off his batting helmet.

The coach points a finger in Tom’s face. “You put that back on and get out there. You are my guy! I scouted you, recruited you, and put you on my team. You can do this! I know it. Now, get back to the plate and do your job!”

Tom lifts his head, squares his shoulders, and marches to the batter’s box. The first pitch comes high and inside. Tom jerks his head back just as the ball curves away and pops into the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike one!” yells the umpire.

The second pitch hurls straight for the strike zone and Tom swings with all his might. The only sound is the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike two!”

Tom steps out of the batter’s box and glances at the coach. The old man’s weathered face is expressionless, his only movement a quick nod. Tom shrugs and returns to the box, grinding his cleats into the dirt and waving the bat above his head. The pitch flies low and on the outside edge. Tom uncoils his frame and pulls the bat around and across the plate. He sees the ball contact the bat, feels the solid reverberation through his arms, hears the hollow crack. The ball sails up and away. It seems to fly forever as if it had wings, clearing the center-field fence and bouncing in the third row of bleachers.

The umpire takes off his mask and clears his throat. “I think you’re supposed to run around the bases, son.”

“Oh, yeah.” Tom drops the bat and begins a slow trot toward first. It is only then that he hears the cheers from the stands. As he rounds first, out of the corner of his eye he catches his whole team emptying out of the dugout, hats waving, faces beaming. He picks up the pace as he hits second base. By the time he rounds third, he is sprinting toward home where his coach and cheering teammates jump up and down in anticipation. He stomps on home plate, and his team lifts him on their shoulders and chants his name as they carry him toward the locker room.

The coach trails the shouting mob and notices John still sitting on the bench in the dugout. The coach sits next to John. “What’s the matter? We won! Tom’s the hero of the game.”

John spits out a spent sunflower seed. “Nah, Tom’s still a bum. He struck out twice. He left me stranded on base. It’s because he dropped those two flies that the other team got ahead. If Tom wasn’t such a lousy player, we wouldn’t need a hero.”

The coach sat silently for a few moments. “You’re a solid player, John. Best catcher I’ve ever coached. You do your job and contribute to every game. If you hadn’t picked off that runner, made the tag at home, sacrificed to score, and laid down that miracle bunt, no one could have saved us in the clutch because there wouldn’t have been a clutch at the end. You’re the best player on this team. You have a long future with this ball club. When you’re done playing, you’ll be a coach. I can see you ending up being the general manager someday. Tom got lucky today. He’s got a long ways to go to be a great player like you. So, let him have his moment of glory. Who knows when it will come around again for Tom? But you, you’re here to stay.”

Photo by Pixabay on

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