I step into the batter's box, placing my right foot in the hole McDonald scraped inside the back chalk line. I am aware of nothing but Gaudin--not the crowd, not the infield in and Lord knows not the blue sky.
This moment is the essence of the game, its molecular core. It is why we love baseball as we love a family member, while the other sports have to manage with our lust, infatuation or uncommitted affection. Either I will win or Gaudin will win, and even the most rudimentary fan will immediately know it. No one will have to wait for the game films. And no teammate can help me.
A baseball game will stage about 80 of these batter versus pitcher matchups, all of which appeal to our American sense of democracy--we must take turns at bat--and our thirst for conflict and for quick and clear resolution, the backbone of prime-time television, our real national pastime, as well. Eighty miniversions of CSI.
Since sportswriters fall significantly below utility infielders and pitchers in the food chain of big league hitters, I assume Gaudin will attack me with a first-pitch fastball. I have committed to swing at the first pitch since I woke up and ate a bowl of instant oatmeal from the Spread. Gaudin swings his arm down, back, up and through in that familiar, graceful but orthopedically damning circle of a big league pitcher.
Here it comes. It is a fastball and it is a strike. I have prepared for everything about this pitch except one thing: its speed. The baseball jumps on me so incredibly quickly that I am transfixed. The ball has not just outraced my mind, it has also fried its circuitry. Synapse shutdown. I cannot swing.
"Huuuuh!" bellows the umpire.
I am in a hole, 0 and 1. Worse, I have a slightly gnawing feeling in my stomach that I will never again see a pitch that good.
Now I must swing. Here it comes again. Fastball. Inner half. I swing. Just as I do, the ball is gone. Manhole. It drops so unkindly beneath the path of my bat that I can almost hear it laugh.
I am in hitter's jail, 0 and 2, and Gaudin is not bound by the Geneva Convention. He can do whatever he wants with me--spin one, waste one, shave my whiskers. This much I know: If it is within the 34698 ZIP code, I am swinging. You do not leave eagle putts short, you do not miss the birth of your children, and you do not go down looking in your only major league at bat.
Here it comes again. Fastball. Up. Farther in. I swing.