“You’re right. I can do this. I can be supportive and not crazy competitive,” said Rafi
Rafi jogged over to the bleachers, where he had spotted his two best friends.
“Thanks so much for coming to watch my game.”
“Of course we came!” said Meir. “We wouldn’t miss opening day!”
“Yeah!” agreed Shmuli. “We can’t wait for your team to show those Bears what you guys can do! Go Lions!”
“Well, wish me luck. We’re going to need it,” grumbled Rafi.
“Hey, don’t talk like that,” responded Shmuli. “You said you gave your teammates pointers at practice and now they’re all doing better!”
Rafi looked around to make sure no one else was listening to their conversation and then whispered, “Well, they’re better compared to how they were last year, but we’re still not good enough to beat the Bears.”
“Rafi, don’t psych yourself out like this,” said Meir as he looked his friend in the eye. “Your team is going to do just fine. And even if they mess up a little, don’t get all worked up. You can’t let yourself get to the point where you start yelling at your teammates and stealing catches from them. Remember, Coach said this game is your absolute last chance to prove that you can stay on this team.”
“I know, guys, and you’re right. It’s just so much pressure. Pressure to win, but also pressure to know my place and not drive my teammates crazy. I’m just not sure I can control myself when they start making errors.”
“Rafi,” said Shmuli. “You can do this. You can be a team player. I know you can. Right, Meir?”
“Totally!” replied Meir. “Just have fun and try to stay calm.”
“You’re right. I can do this. I can be supportive and not crazy competitive,” said Rafi.
“Lions! Lions! Lions!” Meir and Shmuli chanted, as Rafi ran toward his team.
“Okay, boys! Who’s excited for the first game of the season?” Coach Kahan asked.
All the boys on Rafi’s team cheered.
“I have a great feeling about today’s game,” Coach continued. “We’re going to go out there and play baseball and do our best and it’s going to be great! Right, boys?”
“Right!” they all shouted.
With a big smile and lots of positive energy, Coach reviewed the lineup with the boys, as well as their positions on the field. Rafi was assigned to shortstop between second and third base, just as he had hoped. As the boys sat on the bench in the dugout and waited for the game to start, Coach locked eyes with Rafi and gave him a thumbs-up and a big smile. Rafi smiled back and hoped that Coach would still be smiling at him by the time the game was over.
It was the top of the first inning, and the Lions were up at bat. Eliezer was the first to face the Bears’ pitcher, Aryeh.
Aryeh threw out the first pitch. Eliezer swung hard, but failed to make contact with the ball. “Strike one,” called out the umpire.
“You can do it, Eliezer!” cheered his teammates.
Eliezer repositioned himself at the plate and waited for the second pitch. This time, he made contact, but fouled the ball.
“You’re doing great, Eliezer!” cheered Rafi. “Keep your eye on the ball just like you did at practice and you’ll hit it!”
Eliezer looked with determination at the pitcher and this time, when Aryeh pitched, Eliezer’s bat made solid contact with the ball.
“Go! Go! Go!” shouted Coach Kahan. Eliezer raced to first and stood proudly on the base.
“Alright!” shouted Rafi.
Noach, the new boy on the team, stood up nervously and grabbed a bat. The boys on his team all cheered him on, but Noach still looked pretty uncomfortable as he stood at the plate.
Coach Kahan stood next to Noach and helped him position his hands properly on the bat and then gave him the thumbs up. “Just do your best and try to have fun,” Coach added before heading back to his seat on the bench.
Aryeh pitched, but Noach didn’t even try to swing. “Strike one!” called out the umpire.
Another pitch and another strike.
“You can do it!” yelled the Lions.
On the third pitch, Noach swung too late and struck out for the third time.
Noach headed back to the bench. Most of the boys on the team called out comforting comments, like “Nice try!” and “I’m sure you’ll get a hit next time.” But when Noach passed Rafi, Rafi just looked down at his feet and crossed his arms.
The next boy up at bat was Baruch. Baruch hit a pop fly on the first pitch. The Bears’ second baseman easily caught it and Baruch was out.
“Great. That’s two outs,” grumbled Rafi. All the boys and even Coach turned to look at Rafi. “Sorry, Coach, I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” Rafi mumbled.
“Rafi, you’re up,” called Coach without much enthusiasm. “Just do your best, that’s all anyone expects.”
Rafi confidently walked up to the plate and waited for the pitch. Aryeh wound up and pitched the ball. Rafi swung with all his might and whacked the ball into the outfield. The Lions and their fans all cheered as Rafi raced to first and Eliezer left his spot on first and ran to second. When Rafi reached first, he looked at the outfield and saw that the Bears’ outfielder was still chasing the ball. “Run for third, Eliezer! Go! Go!” shouted Rafi. Eliezer quickly ran to third and Rafi managed to get to second before the Bears’ pitcher caught the ball. “Yes!” he shouted. Rafi and Eliezer smiled at each other from the bases.
Unfortunately, the next batter for the Lions, Sruli, got three strikes. The Lions’ turn at bat ended without any runs.
“Good effort, everybody!” Coach called out as Eliezer and Rafi came in from the field.
“Sorry, guys,” said Sruli.
“Don’t worry about it,” Eliezer replied good naturedly.
“Whatever,” mumbled Rafi under his breath.
The Bears had already scored three runs and it was just the first inning. Rafi knew that the Bears had stronger hitters than his team, but he also knew that their runs weren’t simply due to the Bears’ superior skills. He tried to stay calm when his teammates fumbled catches or threw wild throws. He really did. But each time the Lions made another error or the Bears made another run, Rafi could feel the tension bubbling up inside him. He remembered times when his mother left the soup boiling for too long and suddenly it would start to spill over the sides of the pot. That was Rafi right now. Watching the Bears cream his team, he felt like he would spill over at any minute.
I’ve got to do something before they humiliate us for real, Rafi thought to himself. The next batter for the Bears was a tall boy named Gavi who was known to be a strong hitter. As Rafi expected, Gavi hit the ball on the first pitch. Rafi realized that the ball was heading right toward him. He grabbed the ball as it bounced his way. He looked at the first baseman and made a quick decision. It was too risky to throw the ball to him and expect him to catch it before Gavi made it to first. Rafi decided instead to get Gavi out at second. But Rafi didn’t have much confidence in the second baseman, Yehuda, either. So Rafi decided to run with the ball to second base and try to tag Gavi out himself.
Rafi raced as fast as he could straight for second base.
“Hey! What are you doing?” yelled a confused Yehuda. Yehuda wasn’t sure what to do, so he ran toward Rafi, thinking he would grab the ball from him.
Gavi was speeding toward second base. Rafi raced to tag him out. Yehuda ran toward Rafi. Before anyone knew what had happened, all three boys had crashed into each other.
“Ow!” Rafi screamed from the bottom of the heap of boys. “My arm! Get off of my arm!”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 854)
Oops! We could not locate your form.