My one shining moment in Little League came near the end of my otherwise unmemorable career. I was a bad player on a bad team -- as was the case for most of the years I played -- but we got to play a "playoff" game because, you know, Little League.
Against a team much better than us, we were somehow holding a lead in the bottom of the 9th inning (or whatever the Little League equivalent of the 9th inning was). I had been parked on the bench for most of the game. My coach avoided putting me on the field whenever possible, possibly due to my aforementioned terribleness. When he did put me in, he always stuck me in right field. He probably figured it was the position at which I could do the least damage, because no Little Leaguer has ever hit a ball to right field.*
(*This is a fact. You can look it up.)
Indeed, right field is where I found myself stationed in the bottom of the 9th, mainly looking on as a spectator as our opponent started stringing together a bunch of hits and runs, whittling away nearly our entire lead. Before we knew it, they had pulled within one run, and the potential tying run was at third base with one out.
That's when it happened. I heard the "ping" of the aluminum bat and suddenly saw the ball flying in my direction, a frozen rope bound for deep right field. Parents and coaches looking on surely thought this meant doom for our team, never expecting the dorky, four-eyed right fielder possessed the range or speed to catch up to the ball.
The next thing I knew, my spindly legs were carrying me toward the right-field line, and -- as a surprise to even myself -- I made a clean catch on the run, snatching the ball out of the air. But that was only Part 1.
The runner at third base, probably considering it a foregone conclusion that the ball would fall in, had already gone halfway down the third-base line. After I made the catch, he had to rush back to third to tag, then barreled toward the plate again. That bought me the time I needed to uncork my noodle arm and hurl the ball in the general direction of the plate.
I'd love to say it was a Cespedian cannon throw, a perfect strike to the catcher's mitt. It was not. The ball bounced, more than a few times. But all that mattered was that it got there eventually. The catcher snatched it up and slammed down the tag on the runner sliding into the plate, enveloped in a cloud of dirt. OUT. Ballgame over.
I started making my way toward the infield in joyous disbelief. My teammates were all there to greet me with glove slaps and high-fives. Against all odds, I'd saved the day, somehow.
There was one more twist to this story I didn't know about until after the game. Apparently, my coach was about to pull me from the game before the 9th inning even began. But my mom, ever vigilant, reminded him of a little-known but essential Little League rule: all players were required to play at least three innings in the field, and I had only played two up to that point. Through the fence, she told him simply, "You know, the rule is three innings."
The coach reluctantly kept me in, and the rest was history.