Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ups and Downs

In late June a little more than halfway through your season, you and your team hit the bus for a six-game road trip.

It starts with a bad day -- 0-for-4, two strikeouts
Followed by another poor evening – 0-for-3, three weak groundouts
Followed by a subpar afternoon in the series finale – 0-for-3, one walk
0-for-10 in the three-game series

And the slump has begun.

Remember that comfy .305 batting average? Time to say good-bye to that.
Remember that overflowing confidence? It has run out.
Remember the loose and fun loving demeanor you had before each at-bat? It has tightened up.

The road trip continues with a new three-game series in a different city…
Game one -- 0-for-4, a line out to the shortstop, three groundouts
Game two -- 0-for-3, sacrifice fly, two groundouts, strikeout
Game three -- 0-for-4, three strikeouts, deep fly ball to the centerfield warning track
0-for-11in the three-game series; 0-for-21 on the six-game road trip

Time to return home. You know your batting average has dipped to .282 because you saw it on the 25x50 foot scoreboard in your final at-bat the night before. You think to yourself “Do they have to show that to everyone in the stands?” It is still a respectable number but you know it is trending downward.

Over the last few days you have watched extra tape of your swing with the hitting coach. You see yourself late on the fastball and early on the breaking ball. Your stride and your hands and your hips are all firing at different times. You watch a curve ball drop into the strike zone… strike three. You see yourself go flailing after a fastball out of the zone and tap it weakly back to the pitcher.

Although you are not a self-described superstitious man you have found yourself trying to appease the baseball Gods by changing up a few things… it can’t hurt right? You bought a new pair of batting gloves; no hits in those. You tried a new bat; no hits in there either. You slept with your head at the foot of your hotel bed; didn’t find any hits there either.

On the phone your mother and girlfriend tell you to keep your head up; it’s only a game after all. Your father asks you if you are keeping your hands back.

The homestand begins…

Game one – 0-for-2, walk, hit-by-pitch, two fly outs, run scored
You hit the ball hard today. The left fielder made a diving catch and a line drive to center was knocked down by the wind. “Probably would have gotten out on a different day,” you mumble under your breath while jogging back to the dugout.
0-for-23 this week; .280 batting average

Game two – 0-for-3, walk, strikeout, lineout, groundout
In the eighth inning you hit a fastball right on the screws but directly at the first baseman. Two feet to the left or two feet to the right and you would have driven in the two runners on base at the time.
0-for-26 in the last eight games; .277 batting average

Game three – It’s the rubber match of a three-game series tonight. Your round of batting practice felt strong this afternoon. The ball is really carrying today. You encourage yourself before the game, “Good things are going to happen tonight.”

Your first at-bat comes in the first inning with two-outs and two-runners on. With a 2-and-2 count you get a cutter in on the hands. You make contact and your bat breaks. Running to first your hands are stinging while you watch the flight of the ball the whole way. Is it hit hard enough? Is that pesky little second baseman going to get there? Will you be robbed again?

He dives in shallow right field but he comes up short. The ball finds the grass. Both runs score and your team leads 2-0. You breathe a sigh of relief. A HIT. TWO RBI. Your first base coach comes over and slaps you on the back side accompanied by an “atta baby.”

1-for-1 today.

Final stat line in the series finale: 2-for-4, single, double, three RBI, two runs scored.
2-for-4 tonight;. 283 batting average

You are excited to answer your father’s call after the game. Your jokes are a little funnier that night while eating a surprisingly delicious supreme pizza with a couple of teammates at the local Italian joint in town. That old mattress of yours seems extra cozy that evening.

The slump is over. You have a new series starting tomorrow. You made it through a down. Let’s see how long you can make this up last.

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