Chapter 1 – Crunch Time

No matter how many times he stood in the on-deck circle waiting for his turn to bat, no matter what the game situation was, Todd Douglas always felt nervous; and that cold autumn night in upstate New York was certainly no exception.  For five days, everything Todd had done had something to do with baseball.  He was tired.  His hands were raw from countless hours in the batting cage, and every muscle in his body ached – at least the ones that he could still feel in the numbing northeasterly breeze that swept across the field.

Our team had fought its way to the championship game of a nationwide youth league baseball tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds.  Now, it had all come down to this – it was the bottom of the last inning.  We were trailing by a run.  Chris Armstrong, one of our best hitters, was at the plate.  The bases were loaded, and there was only one out.

Todd’s teammates were standing, shouting encouragement, with their faces pressed against the icy steel mesh of the dugout fence.  Their caps were turned awkwardly in the rally position.  I was pacing in the third base coach’s box like an expectant father in a hospital delivery room anxiously awaiting the arrival of his first child.

As the home plate umpire yelled, “STRIKE THREE,” Todd strode toward the plate.  As he did, he looked up and saw his parents and his seven-year-old sister, Kelsey, perched high on the first base bleachers.  He could tell from the strained smiles on his mom and dad’s faces that they were intent on at least appearing supportive and confident.

But there was nothing artificial about Kelsey’s smile.  She always smiled when it was Todd’s turn to bat, and that night, as scared and lonely as Todd was when he stepped into the batter’s box and dug his feet into the soft red clay, he couldn’t help but smile back . . .

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