My life is like an at-bat with one-out in the bottom of the ninth in a championship game. My team is down by a run with chances at ultimate victory slipping quickly from our grasp. I come up to the plate, but I’m facing the most intimidating pitcher in the game. His fastball blazes in with incredible speed and unerring accuracy. His curveball drops with terrifying and humiliating deception. The crowd filling the stadium around me waits with uneasy anticipation, fearing even to hope that my meager abilities are a match for this buzz-saw force, at whose feet countless of his enemy batters had fallen. I dig into the batter’s box, blurring the marks that outline the rules for this encounter, knowing I need every possible benefit of the doubt to have the chance. Before I know it, the first pitch pounds the catcher’s mitt, a strike. The umpire marks me down for the first sign of my impending failure, the count against me now indicating that all my strengths, talents and abilities will not be enough to survive this battle.
I try to remember every piece of advice I’ve been given. I draw on every ounce of heart and courage I’ve acquired. I let the love of the fans, my teammates, my wife Chelsea and my family give me a confidence I don’t really feel inside. WHAP! Strike two. I stand virtually condemned. My eyes have failed me. I’d seen that pitch as high and my perception is clearly off. The umpire has no mercy, nor do I deserve any. If I fail to swing, I deserve to be sent below, to the dugout, unable to achieve victory by my own strength. I make up my mind that I will swing on this next pitch, I’m not going to go down without a fight. As the unstoppable force opposing me delivers his next pitch, I prepare to deliver all my force to punish the ball, only to realize that it’s a hard curveball thrown too far inside. I quickly try to check my swing, to undo what I have done, as the ball bears in on my hands. Pain shouts in my brain as the ball glances off my hand, and immediately the catcher appeals to the first base umpire, shouting, “He swung!” I bow my head, knowing that I had certainly swung and canceled out my chance to reach base through a hit-by-pitch. I glance up to see confirmation of my defeat, only to see the first-base umpire’s “Safe!” signal. Somehow, I was going to first, not of my own merit, but because of the grace of an unexpectedly lax law-keeper, giving me and my team undeserved life. The protests of the catcher and the buzz-saw on the mound are to no avail. The authority of mercy trumps all, and I find myself on first base, still with a chance to find my way home.
The batter after me is the driving force of our team, Clete “the Ghost” Haggio. The Ghost is the driving force of our team. He encourages everyone, he’s always willing to give advice or share resources. Amazingly, he has been my teammate since Little League, drafted the same time as me to the same team, and has accompanied me all the way during my climb through the minors. The Ghost has always been cheering for me and strengthening me when I doubted myself. I know exactly what he will do and as soon as the pitcher delivers, I break for second base. The Ghost’s perfectly-placed bunt leaves the third-baseman no choice but to throw to first as I slide safely into scoring position. The Ghost’s incredible speed is not quite enough this time; the third-baseman makes an amazing play to get him. My friend, constant counselor, my encourager has submitted himself for the good of the team to give us hope.
The pitcher growls as he receives a new ball. While frustrated, he is confident in his ability to overcome these unforeseen developments. With two outs, our chances are still slim, our doom still imminent. As Joshua Christo steps to the plate, I give him a quick salute. Born to immigrant parents in Bethlehem, Pennyslvania, Josh was discovered as a late bloomer while playing his senior year at Nazareth College, and he worked steadily in the minor league system for a while, developing as a catcher known for his adept handling of pitchers and umpires. He has always seemed far more interested in the success of his teammates than his own, constantly pointing to our value, perpetually reminding us of the victory possible for us together with him leading our club. The only hope we have now is that Josh will intervene. I take my lead from second, doing everything in my power to put myself in a position to let Josh pull through. The pitcher wastes no time in delivering a 100-mph heater for a strike. Then, the second pitch, a curveball, hits the dirt, and bounces to the backstop. I break for third and find myself 90 feet from home, through no skill of my own. This game has brought me to within a few steps of unimaginable joy, yet I cannot do anything now to get to the Promised Land. I watch as Josh swings over a curveball for strike two.
Now, I am resigned to our fate. Even if I scored, we wouldn’t win the game, just tie and hope for a miraculous win in extra innings. The best that luck, talent, education and the rules could get me was a tie, a postponement of eventual defeat. My hopes rested entirely on the shoulders of Josh – Josh who was only on this team because he cared so much about us. He had gathered national attention for donating his entire salary to local homeless shelters and migrant communities. And, yet, all that goodness would not provide him any advantage against this closer of doom on the mound. I held my breath for the final pitch. Joshua Christo swung and connected. The ball flew out towards the fence, and delirious happiness began to break like a sunrise across my mind. From as good as dead in a two-strike count to victorious life, Josh had hammered that pitch into the seats, a two-run shot to win the game and bring me safely home.