This article is a continuation of a previous article, “No One Gets to First”.
The day after Emily pitched the perfect game I arrived at the practice field my normal 30 minutes prior to the start of practice to unload equipment and set up. When I pulled up Emily was already sitting in the dugout waiting for me. She approached, asked if I needed any help, and then helped me unload and set up the equipment for practice.
As we unloaded and set up I began to ponder how Emily could have arrived at the field so early. I did the calculation in my head and I came to the conclusion that the only way Emily could have arrived that early would have been to leave school 15 minutes before her last class was done. I later discovered Emily had her mom write a note for early dismissal.
As we unloaded and set up Emily appeared to want to talk. When we finished I asked Emily if she needed anything.
“Coach, I have a request.”
“What is it M?”
“Coach, I know how you are about practice; how you always have every minute of every practice planned out. But I wanted to know if I could have some time during practice to do something?”
“It depends on what it is and how much time you need, M.”
“I wanted to know if it would be OK if we took some time so my teammates could sign my game ball?”
“That’s an unusual request, M. Why do you want your teammates to sign your game ball?”
“Well, Coach, you know how my dad is with stats. Well last night we were going over the two games I pitched the other night, and I learned something Coach. You need 21 straight outs to get a perfect game. And I did that. But Coach, the stats said I only had 10 strikeouts. That means there were 11 outs made by my teammates. So I wouldn’t have pitched a perfect game without my teammates. In fact, because they got 11 outs and I only had 10 strikeouts it’s more there perfect game than it is mine. That’s why I want them to sign my game ball.
“That’s very honorable of you, M. And yes I will give you some time during practice so your teammates can sign your game ball.”
About half way through practice we did some conditioning. Afterwards I sent the players out to the grass to stretch. I looked at M and said, “Now’s the time, M.”
Emily ran over to her bag and came running back with her game ball and a pen. She stepped into the circle and handed the ball to the player standing to her right. It just happened to be one of the team captains who had a sister who survived the car crash that killed the three teammates.
“What’s this M?”
“I want you to sign it.”
“But this is your game ball M. Why do you want me to sign your game ball?”
“To pitch a perfect game you have to have 21 straight outs. But I only had 10 strikeouts. The other 11 outs were made by my teammates. So the perfect game is as much yours as it is mine so I want all of you to sign my game ball so I will always have a memory of my teammates who helped me do it.”
“Wow M! You know, when I was young, I was a pitcher. I always wanted to throw a perfect game, but I was never good enough to throw a no-hitter much less a perfect game. But your right, since we helped you get your perfect game, it’s almost like each of us did it. M, it would be an honor to sign your game ball.”
With that our senior captain signed M’s game ball, handed it to the next player in the circle and then gave M a hug. That continued the rest of the way around the circle.
What I remember most is there was not a dry eye and every player was smiling.
Looking back now, Emily’s simple gesture of gratitude, to share her perfect game with her teammates, inspired the players to set aside any differences and to come together as one. They bonded, took care of one another and played for one another.
The same players and team that the administration, teachers, coaches and parents just wanted me to help make it through the season went on to set a school record for the most wins in a season. They took first place in their Conference. This gave them their goal of a Conference Championship Board to hang in the gym. To this day, in the High School Gym, at the bottom of that Conference Championship Board, hang three black ribbons in memory and honor of their lost teammates — 2, 4, 12.
A perfect ending to a perfect game, shared and multiplied.
© 2013, Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.