Today was our softball team's regular season finale. We were playing the team that was battling us for the final playoff spot. The situation was clear-cut: win and we're in, lose and we're out. We were without three of our top players, but I felt confident we could win anyway.
We gave up four runs in the top of the first after one of their guys hit a bases-clearing three-run triple and scored a play later. We managed to get our first three guys on base, but then I was up. I shouldn't be the clean-up hitter, but we were short-handed. I pulled a grounder to third. It scored a run, but I essentially killed the rally.
Defensely we nailed things down, though. I only had to make one close defensive play. Everyone held their breaths as I threw the ball across the diamond from third to first. I've been struggling with the accuracy of my throws this year for some reason. But I was determined not to fuck up, and I made a strong, accurate throw to get the out. Innings two through six we allowed no runs, including three 1-2-3 innings, and we slowly chipped away offensively, eventually tying the game in the bottom of the sixth (even though I again pulled a grounder to third for the fielder's choice in my second at-bat).
Then the seventh happened. Their leadoff hitter hit the ball sharply to the outfield. Our centerfielder did a great job of keeping the ball in front of her and limiting the batter to a single. The next batter hit a bloop just over the shortstop. He fielded it on one hop and spun and made the perfect throw to second. Everyone could see the runner was out … everyone but the umpire, who called him safe. The other captain and I went to protest the call, and the umpire started to cop an attitude with us. Next batter got a hit, and the runners tried to get more bases than they were entitled to. The second baseman, on the relay, tried to mow down the runner at the plate. That was a mistake. We should have conceded that run, because there was practically no way we'd make that close a play. I was shouting for her to throw to third instead, where we would easily have picked off the runner. We ended up giving up three runs that inning, whereas probably none would have scored if the umpire had made the correct call at second and only two would have scored if the second baseman had picked off the runner at third instead of attempting the play at home.
No problem, though — we had the top of the order coming up. Our leadoff hitter grounded out. However, the defense violated the rules to make the out. The rulebook clearly states that a defender cannot run out of postion and step in front of another defender in the act of fielding the ball. This is designed to let everyone play, to keep the (usually) guys from hogging the ball from the (usually) girls. The shortstop was about to field the ball, but she never would have been able to make the throw to first. Suddenly the third baseman charged in front of her and threw a laser to first for the out. I immediately called time and protested the play, but to no avail — the umpires insisted that the play was in the third baseman's natural range and did not constitute a violation of the rule, so the runner remained out. Our next hitter got a single, and the one after that smashed a two-run homerun. Our next two runners hit singles before the batter in front of me lined out.
And now I was up. Runners on first and second. Two outs. Our season on the line. I should never have been in that situation. I am an okay hitter, but not a power clean-up hitter. One of our top two hitters should have been up in this situation — not me! I took several deep breaths and tried to relax. I know that in batting practice before the game I was smashing lasers into the outfield. I just needed to make solid contact. I needed to loop something out of the infield, but not so deep that an outfielder would get a chance to catch it. I just needed to relax and get a nice easy swing. Really, I know how to do this. I took the first pitch — ball one, and probably the best pitch I'd see that at-bat. The next pitch was way inside — ball two. One more ball and I would get the walk. But a walk would only load the bases, and the batter behind me is not a particularly strong hitter. I knew I needed to get the job done. The next pitch was low, ball three and a walk for sure, but I swung anyway. I pulled a chopper foul. Now I faced a full-count. I faced a season. I faced four fucking seasons of being the proud captain of Purulent Sputum. If I got the hit, I would tie the game and put the game-winning run in scoring position. If I made an out, I would have made my last ever play for the team I built, organized, designed t-shirts and websites for, raised funding for, etc., over the past four summers. The pitch came. I took a breath and focused. I swung.
I pulled a grounder right at the third baseman.
Words can't describe how bad I feel. I know nobody holds me personally responsible. I know that if the ref hadn't blown two calls we would have won. I know that we were shorthanded. I know that mental mistakes cost us two runs in the seventh and two runs in the first. Still, I was in a position to do something. I, who have worked so hard with these guys to get everyone to understand situations and roles and softball fundamentals, failed to practice what I coach. All I needed to do was take another ball, or swing with an easy, fluid motion. I let everyone down — first by not taking the walk and trusting my teammate to get it done, and second by chasing a bad pitch with a forced swing.
And that's it. My softball season is over. My Purulent Sputum career is over. I could have extended it, but I failed. In a way it's fitting that I had the last at-bat for Purulent Sputum, perhaps ever, because I worked hard to organize this team, to recruit players, find funding, and coach them. And I am proud of everything Sputum did in its four years, including its one playoff appearance (which included a playoff win). I just wish my last at-bat could have given back to the team just a bit of what they have given to me.