Chapter 14 – The Hard Work Continues
With the start of the post-season tournament less than 3 weeks away, Todd redoubled his efforts to become a better hitter. Every afternoon, he practiced in the backyard, sometimes for hours at a time, training his eye and perfecting his swing by hitting hundreds and hundreds of balls into the now badly-worn nylon netting.
Kelsey grew to admire her brother and would often stop what she was doing in the house to bring Todd a cold drink or to pick up the battered balls from the inside of the net and put them into the oversized paint bucket next to the tee.
Todd continued to improve, and as he did, his confidence grew. At the Angels’ almost-daily practices, Todd was crushing the ball all over the field. He and his teammates and coaches were ecstatic. The Angels’ No. 1 hitter seemed to have regained his first-half magic just in time. As the tournament began, Todd Douglas was on the top of his game.
Chapter 15 – Crunch Time (Cont.)
. . . Todd took a deep breath, readied himself for the pitch and then watched as a fastball burned the outside corner of the plate for a called first strike. The next two pitches sailed high and away, and before he knew it, Todd found himself ahead in the count. He stepped out of the batter’s box and collected his thoughts.
Todd had played enough baseball and seen enough major league games on T.V. to know that the pitcher couldn’t afford to let the count get to 3 and 1 and run the risk of walking in the tying run. He knew the next pitch was likely to be “his pitch” – a fastball right down the middle of the plate – just like that old blue pitching machine that Todd had grown so fond of in the first half of the season. All he would have to do is gauge the speed of the pitch, anticipate the timing of its arrival at home plate, and make a good level swing. The bat would take care of the rest.
Todd stepped confidently to the plate, gazed out at the pitcher’s mound with a subtle smirk, and waited. Sure enough, the ball sped toward the middle of the plate. Todd strode into the pitch but misjudged its speed by a fraction of a second. The ball slammed into the catcher’s mitt for strike two. The Angels and their faithful fans let out a groan.
Todd could sense their anxiety, and it quickly became his own. He could feel the weight of the moment crashing down on his shoulders and the fact that the next pitch – a curve ball – went into the dirt in front of home plate to run the count to 3 and 2, did little to ease the now almost-suffocating tension.
Chapter 16 – Tension, Triumph and Togetherness
Sensing the anxiety, I called time-out and walked toward Todd. I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was scared, that he didn’t want to let me or his teammates down, and that he knew everyone was counting on him. I reminded Todd of how far he had come, how hard he had worked, and how proud I and the other coaches were of him for not giving up. I reassured him that no matter what happened on the next pitch, nothing could ever take all of that away from him. I told him that he was a very special and gifted young man, and I encouraged him to believe in himself.
He smiled and headed back to the plate. As he did so, he cast one more glance over to the bleachers near first base and saw that Kelsey had made her way down from her place in the stands and was standing next to the open-ended fence that divided the field from the spectators. When their eyes met, Kelsey flashed Todd the thumbs up sign and smiled. Todd paused just long enough to remember the journey that brought him to this moment, and then he dug in.
The pitcher wound up, and to Todd’s surprise, threw what Todd immediately recognized as a slow curve ball. Todd waited patiently, focused, and just as the ball started to dive over the plate, he drove it deep to left center field. From the moment it left his bat, Todd and everyone else in the park knew that his dream of winning the national championship had come true.
As the crowd erupted and Todd rounded first base, Kelsey bolted from behind the fence and ran out onto the field. Just as Todd reached second base, Kelsey caught up with and nearly tackled her brother. He stopped and gave her a big hug. Then he grabbed her hand, and the two of them finished his victory lap around the bases the same way it all began – with the two of them overcoming life’s little and not- so-little challenges together.