The wind whips through the pitifully thin cloth that covers our makeshift dugout, unstoppable in its journey to chill us to the bone. We bury ourselves in our jackets, but the warmth they provide merely adds to the bitterness bubbling up inside us. The dull gray spring sky reflects the overall depressing atmosphere in our dugout. Miles away in left-center field, the bright lights of the scoreboard mirror our sorrow: Visitor four, Home one, One out, bottom of the seventh. Another “L” on our schedule. “L” for loss, for losers, for liquidated, for lost-cause. We, I, hate how we are becoming accustomed to this feeling, accepting it.
But how can losing be anything but bad? From Little League upwards, coaches always stress how losing, failing, is a learning moment, to see our mistakes. But that just doesn’t make sense. Why do I need to lose to see my mistakes?
I stand outside the box, rubbing my hands. I take my signs, then step into the box, right hand signaling to the umpire as my left hand wields the bat. Outside corner, inside corner, middle. Tap. Tap. Tap. Each tap with the bat stirs up the confidence inside me. I slowly swing the bat towards the pitcher before bringing it back towards the plate. I then turn my gaze on the man on second, who kept the game alive, passing the baton to me. The bat finds the niche behind my right ear, slowly twitching as I wait for the pitcher to make his move. Thousands of thoughts are flying through my mind, and I latch onto one: the pitcher started me off with a curve the last two at bats. Will he do it again? His motion begins: left leg back; right foot to the rubber; leg kick; stride; release. There it is! I see it, the slow speed, the sideways spin, the parabolic arc. The foot taps expectantly, and I struggle to keep my weight back. The sphere dives towards the safety of the catcher’s glove, but my bat intercepts it, driving it to right field as my hips twist, feet plant, arms lock, teeth grip. I’m flying down the base path before the ball even hits the turf. Base hit.
When we learn how to do something, whether it be to write in cursive or to hit a curve ball, to what do we compare ourselves? The successful model. Not a failure. We don’t base ourselves upon the plane that crashed, or the player who was a bust. Why do I need to fail to see my mistakes? I want to win. We learn from our successes just as much as we do our failures. To be honest, saying that we only learn from our defeats is the motto of losers, to make themselves feel better after failing. If I lose, I don’t say, “Good thing I can learn from my mistakes now.” No. I think of how I’m going to succeed the next time. You still make mistakes even when we win, and we want to learn from them; we know that, if we make those mistakes again, we might lose. Winning is addicting. Nobody wants to go without it. However, 50% of teams go without it every game. But it won’t be me. I’m going to learn from my mistakes, and win at the same time.
Third base has been covered by dirt by the time I reach it. With bases loaded, two outs, we’re down by only two runs. A base hit could tie things up, an extra base hit could win it. Although we had been shut down offensively through most of the game, our bats have come alive at just the right time. As Coach gives the signs, I survey the bases: Falcone at second, and Drew pinch-running at first. Geyer strides to the plate, confidence gleaming in his eyes. The others are clawing at the fence and howling to the sky as the pitcher delivers the first pitch. Geyer ducks, the ball careens into the backstop. I prepare to run the gauntlet home, but stop myself, the slight flinch I make the only sign of my uncertainty. I remembered the one of the many golden rules of baseball: never make the last out at home.
At least I’m learning; I turn to see Falcone grinning at me 90 feet away, a knowing glint in his eye. The pitcher takes a deep breath, and launches into his delivery. I don’t feel the cold wind snatching at my uniform, snarling from the sky; only the adrenaline pumping through my veins. Low. The pitch was low. Now it’s 2-0, and the pitcher’s head is lowered as he returns to the mound. What will Geyer do? Will he look for the fastball, as coach has taught? If he hasn’t learned yet, he’d better learn now. I hop off the base as the pitcher winds and fires the 2-0 fastball, face blood-red with exertion. Yes. Geyer turns on it, bat head flying through the zone and smiting the ball like a knight of old, sending the ball leaping in an upward trajectory towards the outfield. The metallic clang rings throughout the field as the bat rings its happiness to the world. Likewise, the bench erupts with joyous celebratory cries as the ball flies into the left-center gap.
Adam Koubeck is a member of the Joel Barlow High School Class of 2014. A varsity baseball player, he lives in Easton with his parents, Michael and Michelle Koubeck.