My secret? Aim at big targets.
They are harder to miss. I keep my dreams broad. I am rarely disappointed.
I donít expect a bullseye and I donít need one. Much like the way a pitcher paints the corner, I catch just enough of my dream to get the call. I can believe that, with a little help, I can have enough of whatever I need to keep going on like this.
Bottom of the ninth. The pitcher on the mound is trembling. From our seats we saw him quaking Ė it was that bad. It wasnít just his hands but his whole entire body, shivering like heíd just crawled out of a frozen lake. His leg was bloody. His leg was bloody because heíd clipped it with his spikes on a pitch in the second that felt just right, and from there he kept on repeating it the exact same way.
But right now it isnít working. Bottom of the ninth, and he walked the first batter he faced. Heíd walked a couple of others early on in the game and another in the eighth, but he hasnít allowed a hit all day and thatís what heís still doing out there. The game is not on the line Ė not yet Ė but he is. This is, and his leg is bleeding because of it, because his spike caught his leg on the fourth pitch of the second when he perfectly painted the corner Ė perfectly, got the call, wasnít not going to get it. That goddamn pitch was something out of a text book. No, something out of a video theyíd show in the Hall of Fame just like theyíre going to show this one. Just like theyíre going to show this one, if only he can get the last three outs.
See, thatís the problem. He knows. Heís thinking about it. He didnít even have to pretend he wasnít thinking about it before because itís true, he wasn't. Not in the seventh, not in the eighth. But in the top of the ninth he looked up from under the towel he had over his head cause he heard the crowd roar. It was a double to left but he'd caught a glimpse of all those shining zeroes. He didnít mean to. He never meant to. Shit, he thought it was the eighth but that wouldnít have mattered, that just would have screwed him up earlier than now. Cause heís screwed up now. Heís shaking. Itís the first time heís felt the sting in his leg. It hurts.
He has to calm down. He has to be still again. All day heís been waiting on the batter and heís not going to stop that now, but heís rushing it. Heís rushing inside and he can feel it. He can hear his blood in his ears. Itís all he can hear. What was he listening to earlier? What was he hearing when it was all going so right? There was a song in his head, but thatís what was in his head when that bloop in the eighth nearly fell in, so screw that song. What was it after that? There was no after that: That was the third out. And now heís walked a guy to start the ninth. Heís got to slow his heart down. He focuses on his breathing.
Three pitches. Paint the corner. One out.
Three pitches. Paint the corner. Two.
The second out makes him shake again, and makes him think again, and he hates thinking. He comes out here to stop thinking. Itís the only place heís ever been able to truly be alone. And he likes being alone. Thatís what they donít tell you. The guys think a pitcher hates when they come to the mound cause theyíre telling him what to do, or because it means heís failing. And sure that sucks too but really itís cause a pitcher comes out here to be alone, and theyíre screwing that up for him. Theyíre messing with his peace. Some pitchers fight for it, some just try to go Zen and ignore the shapes and voices. Some like him just nod or mutter whatever a guy needs to hear to get him gone again. The mound is the loneliest place in the world, solitary confinement in a see-through cell but itís home more than anyplace else is. Itís quiet in a way nothing else is. Itís his own in a way nothing else is. And thatís why itís so miserable to be pulled, because itís going to be days before you get back there again, home away from home, home at home, home more than anywhere, which is something he figures no one else understands, but of course some do. You do, or would if he told you, but he doesnít know you, and wouldnít tell you if he did. Heís not good with words, and talking about peace tends to break it, and he knows this.
Just like he knows thinking too much breaks it. And heís thinking too much now. Thatís why heís shaking - heís goddamn thinking. Thinking in his goddamn home, his place of peace, the exact place he comes to make all that go away and itís goddamn invading him.
He knows not to throw angry. Makes him go too fast, makes the ball come up. The batterís waiting on him. He calls time. Shit.
Breathe. Lift the knee, clip the leg. Paint the corner.
The umpire doesnít want to make it easy on him. He doesnít want to be mentioned, or blamed. That was a strike in any other inning but he doesnít want to be accused of giving this away. Wait. Heís just doing his thing. Donít throw angry. Love that man. Love that man. Heís fat and heís lonely and heís been wanting to take a piss since the third and maybe thatís why heís been giving you those calls. Breathe. Lift knee, clip leg.
Got lucky. That one got too much of the plate but the coward beside it is looking for a walk, down by five in a goddamn no-hitter. No-hitter. Shit. He thought about it again. Heís screwed. These kinds of things donít happen to guys like him. Number five starter, poor pedigree, clumsy tongue. Freezes on camera, media nightmare. These kinds of things donít happen to guys like him. So just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the peace. Itís going to end. Lift knee, clip leg.
The centerfielder is a kid. Heís had a bad day at the plate and feels like the only guy who didnít get a hit today, but really, two guys didnít. Heís pressing. Heís pressing because he doesnít read the paper or listen to the news but goddamn Sports Center had to go and do a goddamn feature on that guy in AAA. A goddamn feature. So he wants to do something. Wants to do something special. Today. Pitcherís got a damn no-hitter and heís done shit. Shortstop made a spectacular catch on a bloop in the eighth that he, the centerfielder, could have made look boring if that old bastard wasnít running backwards and waving him off, no respect for him at all. Calling him ďKidĒ and shit. They were saying that guy in AAA is ready, said they canít hold him back.
Heís playing back. Back near the wall when maybe he should be playing in more. Coach whistles at him from the bench and flails his arms around, waving him closer in, but he trusts his own speed. He trusts his own speed, and that guy probably wonít be his coach much longer so why listen?
But maybe Coach was right. Maybe he was right cause he hears the crack and heís way back by the wall and all this goddamn distraction and shit heís late, and he knows it, and heís running in and heís running in hard. Heís flying, heís like a greyhound or a cheetah just taking these giant strides and he sees the ball arcing down and heís fast, heís probably fast enough but heís thinking about that shortstop calling him Kid and heís thinking about the no-hitter and he realizes heís never really spoken to that pitcher, like ever. And he realizes what it will mean if he makes it to that ball, that ball above all other balls heís ever had a chance at; this ball, this sacred god of a ball and he imagines what itís going to feel like in his hand and what itís going to feel like to run in with it. Or to lay there if it gets past him, maybe heíll walk in limping just because.
But no, Coach was wrong. Heís fast enough, and itís arcing down, and maybe he doesnít have to and maybe he shouldnít but this play is going to be on Sports Center no matter what and that little shit down in AAA can watch his feature and maybe he doesnít have to, but he dives. He dives, and the grass is more resistant than he figured shit but heís long and he reaches and heís always been fast enough.
He reaches out his glove and he knows: This is going to be on Sports Center no matter what.