Our starter, an earnest and likable boy, went the whole game and, with all the unfamiliar pressure of a tense game, pitched remarkably well. Still, by the seventh, the final inning, he was laboring and falling behind the hitters. His troubles seemed profound, and I squirmed watching him as he struggled to regain his control. There was a walk, and then, on a 3-1 pitch, a single through the box. After a pop-up, their quick shortstop legged out a hit, one of those unlucky rollers between fielders. The next batter forced a man at the plate.
So the bases were loaded with two out in the final inning of the final game of the year. The count on the next hitter went to three and two. You couldn't expect a tired high school pitcher who was such a nice kid to be prepared to throw a strike just then, not when you consider all the lopsided games he'd played in that season. But he did, and it seemed awful and fateful to me that the batter fouled it.
The pitcher walked around the mound, took off his glove and rubbed up the ball. For the first time in the game, he looked over at the dugout, and his eyes stopped on me, his English teacher. It's a frozen moment for me.
"Put me in. Coach," I was thinking. "Put me in."