Monday, September 29, 2014

My last at bat.

As Derek Jeter played yesterday the last of his 2,746 games in the big leagues, I went back 39 years to my last game in the Mexican Baseball League. It was a sad last game, and though the baseball gods owed me nothing, I wish I had had a better end to it all.

When I went to play for the Saraperos de Saltillo, I quickly realized I had some adjustments to make. It was a little bit like work, actually, when you work at a really good place. You find the synapses come a little quicker, the thoughts are a little deeper and the demands upon you are a little higher.

It was that way with the Saraperos.

The pitchers were faster than in high school. The ball came off the bat with more speed and power and the arms of those you played with and against were stronger and truer.

In high school, I was a behemoth. I was a power hitter and could swing from my heels. In the Mexican League, dealing with tougher competition, I choked up on my bat and moved up in the batter’s box. I tried to head off the ball before the curve broke in. I also shortened my swing, hoping to spray the ball about, rather than go for the fences.

Though I didn’t set the league on fire, this method resulted in a creditable season for me. I batted more than my weight, .277, and slugged nine home runs including a grand slam. I also had 14 doubles to go with my 66 rbis.

My last at bat was the last game of the season, a home game against our closest rivals, the Toros de Tijuana. We were down three to two and had two outs in the bottom of the ninth with men on first and second. I came up to bat needing nothing more than a base hit to tie the game. I knew these could be not only my last licks of the season but the last licks of my short-lived professional career.

The pitch, I can still picture it, came in shoulder high, just where I liked them. I always was a bad ball hitter. But instead of swinging hard at it, I slapped at the sphere and hit a weak line-drive to short center, right where the centerfielder was waiting for it.

I don’t regret, almost 40 years later, that my last real at bat (I played some softball after this, but no real games of consequence) resulted in an out. Of course, I would rather have retired like Ted Williams, hitting a homer in my last at bat, or like Jeter, getting ahold of one for a single. I hit a lazy fly to center.

What I regret was that I had shortened my swing, that I didn’t lay into one, that, for more than a few good reasons, I had stopped swinging for the fences.

All this, of course, is a metaphor for our business. Sometimes, I suppose, you have to choke up and just make contact. Try to hit the ball, somewhere. You can’t always swing for the fences. Sometimes you just have to meet the pill and put it in play. But when you get the opportunity and you merely slap at the ball, well, that really sucks.

I wish I had that one pitch back.

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