One crack of the bat and he was off. The ball sailed farther and farther out toward the towering wall, taking the eyes of millions with it. The white sphere carried what seemed like miles into the dark sky, and every eye but his was on it. Bottom of the ninth, two out, game seven of the World Series. This was every kids dream.
The game had not gone well for the Blues. Their starting pitcher, a tall lefty who would end up second in the Cy Young voting that year, had been chased after just four innings and five runs. They battled back, pushing across two in the fifth and one each in the sixth and the eighth, but still faced a 5 to 4 deficit heading into the ninth.
The inning opened with a single by a pinch hitter, and their leadoff hitter bunted him to second. The number two man struck out, bringing the best hitter in the league, first baseman George Weake to the plate. He had not had a very good series, collecting hits in only four of his 20 at bats, good enough for a tame .200 batting average. Not exactly what you expect from a guy who hit .365 in the regular season and would eventually be named MVP.
His critics said the pressure was getting to him. There were murmurs that the anxiety issues that caused him to miss part of the season two years ago had resurfaced. Others said he was simply exhausted. Whatever the reason, the detractors said, Weake was struggling.
What did they know? This was his internal response to the harsh words and criticisms. They didn’t know. Not even his teammates knew. He was the quiet one, the aloof natural with the stiff jaw. So what if he wasn’t exactly the outgoing, joking baseball personality that so many of his teammates were. He was the best hitter in the league that year, maybe even the game.
When Weake stepped into the batter’s box, fans of the opposing team everywhere shook. Kids at home ducked their heads under their team decorated bed sheets and prayed the radio announcer would say that this sweet hitting monster had not clobbered their home club’s offering. “If you don’t eat your peas,” parents told their kids, “Weake will hit a home run tonight.” No fan outside of Larmie, Ohio, the Blue’s hometown and the second most populous town in Ohio, liked George Weake. The Boogie Man wore his Blue’s home jersey.
It had not always been this way. George Weake had not always been a baseball God. He was a 17th round draft choice out of Bellumain University. He moved slowly through the lesser leagues, stopping for too long at Double-A. Eventually he found his stroke, and at the ripe age of twenty-six, George Weake had made his major league debut. Now, four long years later, Weake was the starting first baseman for a World Series team. It’s funny how life works.
He had heard it all along the way. He didn’t pull the ball enough. He took too many first pitch strikes. He couldn’t play defense. His swing had too big of a hole inside. None of it mattered. The critics would find something to harp on no matter who the player was. Jesus H. Christ himself could make his triumphant return and strap on the catcher’s gear, and the writers would say he didn’t call a good enough game. That’s just life. That’s just how it works.
George Weake didn’t care about any of this. He only cared about one thing. He woke up thinking baseball and played numerous games in his sleep. The great baseball God’s of years past had gathered up in heaven, taking a Sunday off from their eternity in which it was always sunny and perfect for Baseball, and they had created The Natural. Babe Ruth donated his strength while Ted Williams threw in his eyes. The Mick contributed his hands and DiMaggio allowed his knowledge. They were even able to convince Gehrig to give them his determination and team spirit. He was a Frankenstein monster that was created to do one thing, to be the greatest Baseball player ever to walk the earth. They had succeeded. Of course they had.
George Weake didn’t consider any of this as the ball floated farther and farther away from home plate. He thought of his past. He thought of how hard he had worked his entire life to get to this point. The tireless hours he had spent with his now deceased father on the diamond near their house. Hours and hours of hitting off tees and taking grounders at first. The months, maybe years of total travel time from little league rides in the back of his father’s car to flights on the Blue’s jet. It all added up to this moment.
The ball had been a first pitch fastball, low and outside. It was a miss pitch; at least he hoped it was. He hoped that the catcher, a veteran he knew well, had not been stupid enough to call a low and outside fastball against a guy who liked them exactly there. Giving him a low and outside fastball and hoping he wouldn’t hit it was like giving Picasso a brush and hoping he would not paint.
He flicked his wrists, his strong, pulsing wrists, and the ball flew. It took off like a bat out of hell or a man jailed for life escaping the confines of the prison walls, fleeing as fast as he possibly could. The ball was no longer a baseball but a cannon ball. It shook it rolled and it screamed as the propulsion from the solid contact its hide had made with the wooden bat sent it off with a moan from the opposing dugout and a scream from his local fans.
The ball carried, but would it be far enough? The outfielder went back, back, back, eventually finding the wall before sinking to the ground in a heap of sorrow and loss. It was over. It was all over. George Weake had done it. The critics could say what they wanted now. The quiet, perfect hitter with the set jaw had made history. It was all over. George Weake had won.