Game #1 – Naturals vs. Cyclones

Photo courtesy of Mike Hudgens Photography.

The game was a blur.

Supposedly, the game was about two and a half hours long.

In two and a half hours, I can watch a movie (unless it’s Marvel). In two and a half hours, I can drive almost all the way to KC. In two and a half hours, I can take an epic nap.

I know how two and a half hours feels. We played nine innings in about 14 minutes.

One hour before first pitch, I drove to the stadium, parked the car, and pulled up the driver’s side window in case it rained. The skies were completely gray cloud covered which, thankfully, blocked the sun. Chances for rain hovered around fifty percent throughout the morning hours but it never materialized. 

By the time I walked in to the stadium from the car, I was soaked. My red jersey was plastered to my back and shoulders. My hat was minutes away from a steady stream of sweat dripping off the bill. August humidity was in full force on Opening Day of the GRBL.

I sat on the end of the bench and traded my P.F. Flyers — “Those would make Benny ‘The Jet’ proud,” one teammate said — for my cleats and felt something like Mr. Rogers.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

The only names I knew in my new neighborhood were my coaches. I had a lot of new names to learn. I started putting names to faces, hearing stories of baseball seasons past, throughout the game while cheering them on.

Skylar. Jake. RJ. Rob. Jared. Nick. Tyler. Scott. Brandon. Justin. Layn. Loren. Zachery.

These are your CY Cyclones!

Stretches, catch with Scott and Jake, a few sprints, and then it was time for player introductions and the national anthem.

Play ball!

I warmed up the right fielder a couple times and practiced timing pitchers while we were up to bat. I learned as I listened to Scott and Ryan process the game and passed out quarters to kids returning foul balls to the first base dugout. The quarter redemption program is just one of Tony’s brilliant ideas in the league and is a good way to interact with young fans. Lots of smiles and high fives.

In the bottom of the third, Rob singled to right and I was inserted as a pinch runner. My first game action. Grant Ledbetter, a righty who used to pitch for the Kansas City T-Bones, was on the mound for the Naturals. I took a conservative lead, determined not to draw any throws.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hudgens Photography

Standing on first, I had flash backs of playing the game for the filming of The First Boys of Spring. After drawing a walk, I was picked off on a set play by the catcher and first baseman.

A couple pitches later, no pick off attempts thrown, I took off for second on a pop-up to the catcher, which ended the inning.  

Dad braved the humidity, sitting directly behind the dugout. He tipped his hat and applauded as I ran off the field, grinning from ear to ear.

Three minutes later and it was the eighth inning. Rob had driven in a run, cut the deficit to two, and I was back on base as a pinch runner with one out and a chance to truly stretch my legs. Coach Nasby kept me focused, talking through the situation in between every pitch.

“Scott Nasby having a very careful word with his runner,” Rance said on the broadcast as I returned to first after running out a foul grounder.

Two strikeouts ended our brief rally. On to the ninth.

I ran out to left field, a late inning defensive replacement, fully aware of the mantra Denny Matthews espouses, “The ball will always find the new guy.”

It did.

The inning started with a lead-off walk, followed by a solid single to left. I fielded it cleanly and threw it back in. Two hitters later, with runners on second and third, I got my first fly ball. Grateful for the help from center judging its depth, I made the catch and stupidly airmailed the cutoff man for a possible play at the plate.

The rookie mistake allowed a run to score.

Two hitters later, I got my second fly ball.

“A can of corn grab,” Rance described it.

It did not feel like a can of corn. With every pitch, my heart was hammering and my mind was fully and completely engaged, thinking through possible scenarios. It was incredible, pure adrenaline and joy.

Another minute passed and the game ended. We were unsuccessful in mounting a last-at-bat rally. I was in the hole when the final out was made.

The Naturals won 6 – 2.

I am a pretty competitive person. I don’t even like losing at rock-paper-scissors to my wife. (I don’t know why we play. She always wins.) Losing the first game was frustrating, but I really like this team. These Cyclones have a lot of grit and heart and are great teammates. Now that the loss is out of the way, maybe we can just win the rest the games.  

After my daughters left for church, it occurred to me why the game felt so short.

When you completely lose track of time doing something, you are playing.

Playing keeps you young, even if you’re the oldest player on the team.

Playing embodies hope, which was so needed after a week of dealing with multiple car issues.

Playing puts a smile on your face, even if your team loses.

Next Sunday is Back to School Day. All elementary, middle school, and high school students, teachers, and faculty can attend the games for free. There will be games for the students and specials for teachers, encouraging all at the start of another school year.

Education is the answer.

The Cyclones will face the Yogis in another noon game which means I will be trying to figure out how to wear a frozen hat and jersey.