- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On the third pitch Glan muscled an inside fastball into shallow left centerfield for a hit. From second base Wells, one of the fastest players on the team, tore toward third and saw Sweet waving him home. Taking a big turn, Wells churned down the line as a Waukegan sophomore named Joe Mirretti fielded the ball in the short grass 15 feet behind second and uncorked a throw home.
The ball stayed in the air for what felt like forever. If this were a movie, one like Hoosiers in which time stands still and the underdogs come through and you feel like leaping out of your chair and hugging the person next to you, that ball would have hung up a little longer, or skidded to the backstop. But real life isn't always like that. "The throw had to be on the money," recalls Sweet. "If the kid had to do it 10 times, we're going to score seven or eight times, but hats off to him."
Had Wells scored, it would have been 4--3 with one out. Instead, it was 4--2 with two outs. The Macon crowd slowly settled back into the bleachers. It seemed a formality when the next batter, Brian Snitker, sent a chopper down the third base line for the final out.
The Ironmen didn't have much time to grieve. No sooner had they finished shaking hands with the Waukegan players than they began receiving congratulations—from their fans, sure, but also from opposing players and coaches. A Decatur radio station, WSOY, wanted to interview them. Reporters lauded them. And the drive home was more of a parade, three miles' worth of cars following the bus, joined by a fire engine at Elwin for the homestretch into Macon.
By the time the team arrived, it was nearly 11. Expecting to go to bed, the boys were instead directed to the school auditorium, on the double. There, waiting in the thick summer heat, were the rest of their classmates. Senior graduation had been set for 8 p.m., but the class had voted to wait. Forty-odd boys and girls in their finest, not to mention countless relatives and friends, endured three hours without air conditioning. When the players arrived, they roared through the door as if bursting through a dam. To cheers, the five seniors on the team walked down the aisle carrying Sweet on their shoulders. For one night—hell, for one spring—Macon mattered.
Not all the players reveled in the moment. The sound of cheers may have echoed down Front Street, past the Macon Motel and 51 Lounge and into the dark countryside, but it did not reach the Shartzers' house. That's where Steve, a junior, sat in his room, head in his hands.
That wild ride home to Macon? It had been different for Shartzer. As his teammates peered out the windows of the bus, soaking in the sight of the crowded streets and the fire engine and the police escort, Shartzer was hunched in the back, lost in himself. The guy who'd pitched two games with one good hand—who'd vowed to pick up that damn flag, who'd spent all season galvanizing his teammates—blamed himself. How can we have this celebration when we just lost? he wondered. When the bus reached Macon, Shartzer remained on it, wedged into his seat. Finally Bob Shartzer climbed the bus stairs and walked to the back. He didn't say anything at first, just sat there for a moment. All those games of checkers that Bob wouldn't let Steve win, all those lessons taught on the living room rug—now he needed to impart a different lesson.
"Son, did you do your best?"
Steve looked up. "Yeah, I did." He paused. "Well, no, I didn't. I made some mistakes, and it hurts."
The father looked at the son. He understood. He put a hand on Steve's shoulder. "Whether you're happy with it or not, you've got to learn to live with the good and the bad," Bob said. "Now it's time to come on out. There's a whole damn town out here that thinks you're a hero."