To Dream The Impossible Dream: My Perfect Game
The evening is seared in my memory like something I cannot forget.
Everybody remembers where they were when they saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, or Bristol Palin break up with Eli.
Me? I will always remember the summer night I pitched a perfect game.
Pitching a perfect game against myself is the only way I could approach perfection. And, sadly, that evening when I was 12 proved to be the highlight of my pitching career, surpassing anything I did on the mound in high school, where I half-lettered at Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond.
The coach gave me a T, not a TJ.
The night of my perfect game was one of those mid-summer evenings when everybody else in the neighborhood was either on vacation with their parents, grounded, or doing something that would get them grounded as soon as their parents found out.
There was nobody around to play baseball, not another soul my age with whom I could shag flies.
However, the boy was the father of the man, as the poet said, and I was as addicted to baseball then as I am now. So I took my ball and bat to a field around the corner on Grove Avenue, my aim to simply toss the ball in the air, hit a long fly ball to the other end of the field, walk down after the ball, bat in hand, hit a long fly ball back up to the opposite other end of the field, walk down after the ball, bat in hand, and, well engage in a frenzy of unadulterated and border-line legal excitement.
A pure Babylonian orgy of mythic proportions.
Only, I missed.
Not just once or twice or even 17 times.
I whiffed more times than Whiff Incorporated, LLC.
I was an alternative green energy source before anyone had heard of the phrase. Three small children began flying kites in the field around me, some of them soaring in the breeze of my swings and misses-the kites, not the kids. A woman hung her laundry out to dry in the adjoining yard, using extra clothespins. Somebody else briefly mistook me for a windmill and started singing “To Dream The Impossible Dream.” A fitting soundtrack, actually.
Because I kept tossing the ball lightly in the air in front of me, unshouldered the bat, swung and missed.
I missed more times than the entire state of Mississippi.
My excuse, I wish, was a wicked curveball, a sinister slider or some pitch nobody'd invented yet.
To this day, I cannot believe it was possible to toss a baseball in front of yourself and swing and miss 60 or 70 times in a row-the equivalent of a perfect game. Such futility had never happened to me before, or since, but that evening I couldn't hit the side of a farm, much less a barn, even if I were standing in the pasture.
So I appreciate that scene in Field Of Dreams so much. The one where Kevin Costner is going to hit fly balls out to Shoeless Joe Jackson-just like I was trying to do-and nearly swings and misses the first time, barely tapping the ball a short distance. His miscue is so realistic.
Except he made some small contact and that's why I know the movie is a fantasy. Because of that scene and the one at Fenway Park when there are three concession stand workers waiting to fill their order, and no line at all, as Costner buys himself and James Earl Jones a dog and a beverage. Nobody gets three concession stand workers to themselves and nobody doesn't have to wait in line. I accept Shoeless Joe walking out of the cornfield. No problem. But no line at Fenway Park and three waiting concession workers? Pure fantasy.
My only concession would be a brief speech congratulating the ball for so successfully avoiding my bat.
Grove Avenue is a fairly busy Richmond street, even on a mid-summer evening. And my embarrassment was acute as the whiffs just kept coming.
If such a thing is possible, I think I got inside my own head. Which I never did to any other batter.
Several people walking down the sidewalk offered their advice but I told them I was swinging and missing fine on my own.
When I finally did make contact it was nearly dark and there were more bats in the air than in my hand. But the feel of the Louisville Slugger hitting the ball still lingers today. Somewhere in my mind, that ball is still arcing up toward the moon, like the impossible dreams of us all.
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