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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

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Friday, February 29, 2008

11 Runs, 1 Hit, 1 Very Important Walk

When we lived in Oregon, I rarely got to see a complete Braves games during the week. The only exception was weekends and West Coast road trips…and then the game had to be on TBS. Often, during the week, I would come home from work, turn on the TV, and start watching a game from the 6th or 7th inning.

One day in June 1998, I came home at the end of the game. It was the 9th inning. Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez, pitching in the fifth spot in the rotation, was still on the mound. I saw him get the last out and then celebrate with his teammates, as he had just tied Juan Marichal for the most wins in Major League Baseball by a Latin American pitcher. TBS then flashed the score on the screen. The first thing I noticed: Martinez had pitched a shutout. Great for him! Great for Atlanta! However, the next item astonished me: 13 HITS! How do you give up 13 hits and not allow any runs? I am convinced I will never again see a box score that strange at the major league level.

However, I know that I will continue to see strange box scores. On Monday, my older son’s 9-10 years old team, the Atlanta Braves, faced the NY Yankees in a practice game. I kept the scorebook. Final score: Braves 11, Yankees 2. The box score on Andrew’s team was 11 runs on one hit. The other team’s pitchers kept walking the players on my son’s team. Then by virtue of wild pitches, passed balls, errors, and the occasional fielder’s choice, the team racked up 11 runs in three innings (before the 90-minute time limit ran out).

The box score may be classic. Even more than the box score, though, the one thing I’ll remember is Andrew’s first time at bat. Like any parent, I want my kid to do well. However, my wife and I have concerns. Andrew’s challenges extend to athletics. (This is not necessarily a special-needs issue. He just takes after his Dad.) We don’t want the other kids to regard Andrew as a detriment to the team. Several times, my wife has asked if the other kids regard Andrew as being “different.” “No,” I say. “They only ask if it’s Andrew’s first year of baseball. When I say it is, they nod their heads and say, ‘he’ll learn.’”

To help him learn, I worked with him the best I can. One area we concentrated on was batting. I’m not good with technique. However, I wanted Andrew to understand the difference between balls and strikes. Playing in the backyard with a garbage can behind him to serve as the strike zone (also umpire and backstop), I pitched to him often to make sure he swings only at good pitches. “Hits are good,” I said, “but it’s more important to get on base. For that, a walk is as good as a hit.” As we progressed, there would be times I pitched to him and he laughed, saying, “That was a ball, Daddy.” At a Braves game last year, he even questioned an umpire’s call. I explained to him that it didn’t matter if the ball was actually a ball or a strike. What mattered was if the umpire said it was a ball or strike. When he disagreed, I told him “the umpire is always right…sort of like Mommy.”

So, with Andrew taking his first time at bat, I knew a hit would be great. However, I also hoped for patience at the plate. He showed it. With the count 3-1, he held up his swing…ball four. Andrew took his base. He reached second on a wild pitch, got to third on a passed ball, and made it home on an error. He made a baserunning blunder between third and home, but it didn’t hurt him. Wearing a wide smile, he crossed the plate, and carried that smile into the dugout. I carried my smile all the way home.

Now if I could only get him not to argue with umpires.

1 comment:

Devon Gray said...

What an accomplishment for Andrew! I know you are proud. I love your analogy of the umpire being like mommy. I have to agree...