Thursday, April 18, was a warm cloudy day, a beautiful day for baseball. When I got to the Elmhurst baseball diamond, It was Elmhurst nothing, Dwenger nothing. This warm snap had brought the people out in droves. Both the visitor and home stands were almost full to capacity. Many of the male spectators were milling around on the sidelines, too edgy to sit in the bleachers, each rooting for their team and for their son.
There’s just something special about baseball. Maybe it’s a carryover feeling from that first game of catch on the living room floor, throwing a nurf ball back and forth with your two-year-old toddler. The simplicity of the act bonds a father to his child and sets up feelings that carry over for a lifetime.
Jacob McAfee, the Dwenger third baseman hit a ball over the fence, making it one to nothing for the Dwenger visitors. In the next inning, Dwenger got an insurance run, making it two zip. In the bottom of the inning, Elmhurst scored a run, making it two to one, still in favor of Dwenger.
The game of baseball has been around since 1842. It was started in New York by a group of men from Manhattan. By 1845, twenty–five year old Alexander Joy Cartwright convinced them to start the New York Nickerbocker Base Ball Club. It has evolved over the years into the American pastime. The pros are at the beginning of their season, but these high school players are already halfway through theirs. They have to be finished by the end of the school year, which is only about five weeks away.
Yogi Bera said once of baseball, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, and baseball is one of the few games where that saying is true. In basketball or football, if your team is up twenty and there is ten seconds left, then the game is virtually over. But in baseball, as long as you have one more swing, there is still that glimmer of hope, that expectation, that one last chance.
Elmhurst came back to within one, but then Dwenger got some insurance runs making it five to two. Mike Ybarra was pitching for the Trojans, and Ben Norton was throwing for the Dwenger Saints.
In the fifth inning, Elmhurst got a rally going, and with two men on base, Dwenger coach, Larry Windmiller, brought in pitcher Jared Tarney to finish the inning. Jared walked one, loading the bases and it looked as if Elmhurst would get the lead, but it wasn’t to be, as Tarney retired the side. The game went into the last inning Dwenger 5, Elmhurst 2.
Elmhurst coach Mark Koos was out of the dugout, talking to his players and the Trojans clawed their way back into the game. They rallied their way to within one and had runners on second and third, with two outs. Tarney, the Dwenger pitcher needed just one more out, and Elmhurst batter Ryan Shaffer needed just one hit; one more swing of the bat.
“And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.” It is at that precise moment; it is in that fraction of a second between when the pitcher lets it go and when the batter begins his swing, that the entire game is up for grabs. All the runs scored, all the hits, all the strikes and balls are all on the line. The scenario has been played out thousands of times over the last 160 years and it is just as thrilling now as it was in 1842. Every fan in the park is out of their seats; every father on both base lines is wound up. Tarney lets it go and Elmhursts’ Ryan Shaffer takes his swing. The ball leaps off his bat. It’s a line drive between the third baseman and the shortstop. Dwenger third baseman Jacob McAfee makes a diving catch dashing the hopes of the Elmhurst faithful and ending the game.
The fans dwindle out of the stands and there is little time for remorse amongst the Elmhurst ballplayers. They are not only ball players, they are also the grounds crew. They busy themselves, raking out the diamond, tamping down the pitching mound, and grooming home plate for the next game.