The Easy Way Out? A Personal Narrative. Part 3: What Came Next
This is the final part of a three-part series of stories by me, JD Biagioni, as part of WZBC Sports’ efforts to expand our website content beyond just game stories. Enjoy the story!
If you missed part 1, click here: https://www.wzbcsports.com/the-easy-way-out-a-personal-narrative-part-1-the-low-point/
And if you missed part 2, click here:https://www.wzbcsports.com/the-easy-way-out-a-personal-narrative-part-2-the-turning-point/
Every game of the best-of-three series was hard-fought and came down to the final pitch. We squeaked out a win in game 1, but we lost game 2 when I, the tying run, was thrown out trying to steal second; it was the first and only time I’d ever been caught stealing. And it was a terrible feeling making the last out, taking the bat out of my teammate’s hands.
All the momentum was with the Athletics heading into the pivotal game 3. On the off day between games, we held a practice to work out any last-minute kinks. The practice wasn’t important for the on-field drills, but the off-field message. Coach Allen showed up in his old Marlins championship jacket. It was at least a decade old, and it served as a tangible reminder of what we were working towards.
If you’d given me 1000 guesses as to how game 3 would have unfolded, I wouldn’t have been able to guess. Our offense remained stagnant as the A’s jumped out to an early 4-1 lead. In one of the middle innings, we needed a spark, and it came from the most unlikely of places. Our bottom-of-the-lineup, never-had-a-hit-all-season kid got up and hit a bloop single to right that drove in two runs.
That kickstarted the comeback, but we weren’t quite there yet. We needed another run. I stepped up to the plate in the fifth, with a man on, and drove the tying run home on an RBI double. A batter or two later, I was rounding third and heading for home to give us the lead, 5-4. There the score would stay. We had punched our ticket to the finals against the Braves.
We played the opening game of the series with the memory of the final week of the regular season in mind, and we played like a team that knew we couldn’t beat the Braves. AD kept our bats at bay and the Braves jumped out to an early lead.
In one of the early innings, when were already trailing by a few runs, I was up to bat against AD. I connected on one and shot a liner over the left fielders head. As there was no fence in left field, I was off to the races. I sped into third and saw Coach Kelley waving me home. The relay came in and there was going to be a play at the plate. I picked up speed but got a little too ahead of myself; I started to lose my balance and did a nice face-plant about five feet before home.
I picked my dusty face, bloody lip and all, up off the infield dirt and saw the catcher holding the ball.
“Do I even have to say it?” the ump asked me.
Dejected, I headed back to the dugout, cleaned up the blood from my face and arms, and jogged back out to shortstop, still with one career home run to my name. The only one I ever hit was an inside-the-park-homer on a similar liner over the left fielder’s head when I was 9 or 10.
There were runners on for my almost-homer, so we did inch closer. This was a last glimmer of hope before the wheels fell off. I’d say we were losing like 4-3 at that time. Soon enough it was 14-3 and I was being called in to pitch. If you knew me, I could’ve left out the 14-3 part and just said I was called in from the bullpen, and you’d have known things were bad.
One of our strengths was our pitching depth, which didn’t include me. I had an accurate arm from short but not on the mound. With the game all-but decided, the coaches put me in to save some innings for out real pitchers. I threw six-straight balls. Then the ump was nice and gave me a pity strike call on a pitch that had no business being a strike. Two balls later, and I got the hook. It was a dejecting game.
We weren’t dead yet, but the pulse was fading. We hadn’t hit AD at all, so our one glimmer of hope for game 2 was that he couldn’t pitch more than a couple innings after pitching most of game 1. Our bats woke up, and we cruised to a 9-2 victory to set up a deciding game 3.
No highlights stick out from game 2, but a pivotal moment in the series came on a meaningless grounder AD hit to me. I fielded it but overthrew our first baseman. AD took off for second as our first baseman scrambled after the ball. AD took the turn for third as the ball was picked up and launched across the diamond. The ball and AD arrived simultaneously. Our third baseman applied the tag and AD was out. Only AD didn’t agree with the call – and he had a bit of a temper. He started cursing out the ump and got himself ejected. He left the base and went back to the dugout to start throwing equipment.
After game 2, Coach Allen took us out to right field for our usual postgame chat. He informed us of the situation with AD, telling us that since AD got ejected, he was automatically suspended for the next game. But, there was always a but, Coach Allen told the Braves coach that AD could play, because we didn’t want a cheap victory if we won game 3.
What?!? We were riding high from the win, particularly because we knew about AD’s suspension. Our kryptonite was out of our lives once and for all. Now he was back, and he was eligible to pitch 6 of the 7 innings in the final game.
At first, this logic seemed asinine. But we slowly came around to it and embraced the challenge.
The stage was set. It had to come down to this for us. If we were going to win, we weren’t going to do it by taking the easy way out. We were going to have to do it by giving our best to beat the Braves at their best.
The Braves chose to pitch AD for the final 6 innings, so we had the first three outs of the game to jump out to an early lead. Seize the opportunity we did. An on-base parade saw us almost bat around and put a 6-spot on the board. The early cushion felt nice.
But then something strange happened: AD came in in the second inning, but the hitting didn’t stop. We grabbed more runs here-and-there throughout the middle innings to keep a safe distance.
Oh, and I got some measure of revenge after my game 1 gaffe. I connected off AD on a similar shot over the left fielder’s head. This time, the ball went a whole lot further, and there was no slide necessary at home.
After I crossed the plate for career home run No. 2, AD started yelling at me from the mound, say that I shouldn’t have been on the team because I was 17.
I walked away quietly to deliver high fives to my teammates, questioning his logic; after all, the Braves had more 17-year olds than us on their roster.
We had a decent lead, but complacency never came. We buckled down in the field and played our traditional Hoover-vacuum style defense. Nine outs to go. Six outs to go.
Finally, it was the bottom of the seventh. Three outs to go. And who else led off the inning but AD. He had one more chance to make a statement, and he made sure to make one. On a routine grounder to third, he motored down the line. The ball arrived when AD was still a few steps away, but he finished his run through the bag by cleating our first baseman. Oh boy was coach right. It felt so much better to beat the Braves with AD.
A batter or two later, the final pitch was thrown. A slow grounder came my way. I charged, threw on to first and headed for the mind to celebrate. We were the Town Champions.
I shouldn’t have been on that field. Playing baseball should have ended for me a year before. But I was given a shot to write a new final chapter in my baseball career.
I shouldn’t have been on that field. I should’ve been on some bench 45 minutes away playing high school ball. But I chose the “easy way.” Only it wasn’t; it was the anything-but-easy way. It was the fun way, the memorable way, the rewarding way, the right way.