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11-Year-Old Superstar

In the late days of summer, the sun shone brightly and warmed the baseball cap sitting atop my head. I squinted at the sphere of light and quickly began to imagine the size and extreme temperature of the distant star. My thoughts wandered to the tuft of grass that inhabited the spot where I was standing in the baseball field. The grass surrounded me in an ocean of forest green mixed with dandelions and little purple flowers. The autumn dandelions were transitioning from vibrant, miniature suns into the white seeds that would float along lazily if caught by a breeze. I bent down to scoop up one of the latter when a sudden Crack! startled me.

A player on the opposing team had swung his bat mightily and connected with the baseball, and the ball flew high above the infield players and into the clear, blue sky. To my alarm, the baseball’s path was clearly heading toward my place in right field. I tried to gauge its trajectory, but my terrible depth perception made doing so difficult. The ball thudded gently into a clump of grass about ten feet ahead of where I was standing, so I ran, grabbed the rolling baseball from the ground, and lobbed it in the direction of second base. My puny, 11-year-old arms were not strong enough to transport the ball to its destination, but the second baseman sprinted toward the ball and, once it had moved from his glove to his open hand, chucked it to the shortstop. The shortstop nabbed it in a fluid motion and brought it crashing down onto the runner’s feet. The infield umpire paused before yelling “Out!”

I jogged to our team’s dugout in utter bliss. Once I reached the shade offered by the aluminum panel on the top of our dugout, the coach pulled me aside. Our coach was large and well built with a scraggly, gray beard. His kindness made him loved by the players and parents alike. He looked down at me and said, “Joey, the next time that we are fielding, I want you to be at third base.” This stirred excitement deep within me, and I smiled at the thought of being a superstar. I joined Little League not because I enjoyed the sport, but because I wanted to be cool and popular. Playing in the infield as a first year would almost certainly aid in that cause.

An eternity later (or so it seemed), my feet were scraping the infield dirt into two small piles. I imagined them as anthills, with the two armies of ants assembling to play their own game of baseball. The idea amused me, until I looked up and saw Chris Cummings advancing to the batter’s box. He was a fourth-year player built like a middleweight boxing champion, and his abilities in baseball remain a legend in my small hometown. He was the fastest pitcher and one of the most powerful hitters in the league. Armed with this knowledge, I wiped perspiration from my face and steadied myself. I suddenly began to prefer the sanctuary of right field to the prestige of third base. With my place already determined and fate sealed, I watched and waited as Chris tapped his bat on the plate and furrowed his brow at our pitcher.

The pitcher flung the ball at the catcher’s mitt, and Chris swung the bat with fury. Another Crack! echoed through the field as the ball surged toward third base. The ball bounced once on the ground and connected squarely with my knee. Before I could think, I was on the ground. The pain rocketed in violent spasms, coursing up and down my leg with a feverish wrath. I was too shocked to cry. Chris reached second base with ease but stopped, uncertain if he should run past the little kid that he might have just killed. As I lay broken and confused on the ground, our coach called for a timeout and approached me. Bending down beside me, he asked, “Are you okay?” I nodded, not wanting to acknowledge the pain in front of my teammates. “Do you want to sit on the bench?” I shook my head. “Do you want to go back to right field?” In that moment, there was no better place in the world. I nodded again.

A minute later, I hobbled to my familiar territory of grass and patches of flowers. The dandelions acknowledged my homecoming by swaying in the wind. Above me, the sun shone down and warmed the top of my baseball cap.

I longed for winter.