© Olivia Tejeda
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs. It’s the final game of the Cinderella Softball League Championship, my team is down 4-1, and I’m up.
I haven’t hit the ball once this season and now it’s all up to me. The only way the team can win is if I hit a grand slammer.
We don’t have a prayer.
The championship title is in my hands, my sweating pudgy little hands. My stomach hurts so much I’m afraid I might poop my pants. I swallow hard and wish I could hide until this is over. I want to go home to my bedroom with my books and my Scott Baio posters.
I love that. I hate this.
When Kayla was up, I figured that if she didn’t make an out, I’d have to bat. I’d have to be the one to lose the game, because I know I won’t win it.
Even though there hasn’t been any divine intervention so far this season, I start praying again anyway.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.
This feels like the hour of my death.
If I do die, at least my parents won’t have to pay for the funeral. Our team is sponsored by a funeral home.
The Colonia Funeral Home …
Owned by my grandfather …
I have the same last name.
The embarrassment never ends.
Coach Rockman gives me four hard raps on the back. “We’re counting on ya,” she threatens through clenched teeth. She takes her game seriously, and even though we’re a klutzy group of 9, 10, and 11 year old girls, winning matters to her as much as it does to Steinbrenner.
I walk to home base with my shoulders hunched over, wishing I could disappear. The stands are quiet. Everyone knows how hopeless I am at this. They’ve watched me strike out all season, and they’re just as embarrassed for me as I am for myself. I can feel their pity. I see it when I look over and see my Mom hugging her arms in front of her. She cringes when she tries to smile and gives me the most feeble thumbs-up I’ve ever seen.
As I get ready to bat, I try to remember everything Coach has told me. Plant your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, keep your knees loose, stay relaxed. Check the opponents’ position.
The shortstop and second base are chatting. Right field is waving to someone in the stands. Third base is playing an invisible game of hopscotch. They know the ball’s not going anywhere. I know it, too. I’m just not any good at this, but I have to be here because of my grandfather’s funeral home. He says he sponsored the team for me, but I know he did it for the cheap publicity, and I have to stand out here and deal with the humiliation until it’s over.
Everything goes slow-mo as I watch the pitcher start her wind up. My hands shake as I grip the bat. I want so desperately to hit this ball. I want so desperately to prove to my team, to my grandfather, to myself, that I’m something more than a fat little pile of nothing.
I’ve daydreamed about hitting the game-winning home run, and my team carrying me around on their shoulders. I think about that now, and I want so desperately for that to happen, but I know it won’t. I hold my breath and feel sweat rolling down my back.
The ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, and I watch it sailing straight toward me. I keep my eye on the ball and try not to wince, like Coach told me.
Without wanting to, I shut my eyes. I pull back on the bat and swing as hard as I can.
My eyes open, shocked by the feeling of the ball cracking against the bat.
Holy Mary, Mother of God!
I hit it!
Stunned, I stand there with my mouth hanging open.
“Run!” Coach Rockman screams, “RUN!” And I do, with all my might, I do.