My Final High School Season
by Jason Patzfahl
The sun was hiding somewhere far behind the clouds of winter as layers of gray pillowed the air overhead. Fresh snow, two or three inches thick where the drift carried it, covered the grass which had been dead since last November. Our star pitcher stood in front of me, talking to his brother about something juvenile. With every immature utterance from his mouth, a puff of white breath formed in front of him. His nose ran uncontrollably, making him sniff between every word.
The infield dirt was pale, frozen, and cracked where not covered by snow. Icicles hung, suspended in mid-drip on the chain link fence behind home plate. Our coach leaned up against the fence on his left side, staring into the whitewashed outfield, blowing hot air into his hands as he cuffed them over his mouth. His eyes were tearing from the relentless wind, or from the look of the day. Either way, practice would have to wait at least another week.
The temperature hadn't broken 30 degrees in the last three weeks, and the snow had been piling up with each storm that rumbled through. The look in his eyes told me that it was going to be another long season, one in which the games started a couple of weeks late and ended with doubleheaders to make up for the freeze-out games. I was the catcher, bound for a great senior season and a possible run for a couple of defensive records. I could see them disappear in front of me though as I knew I would miss catching almost half the games because of the hard doubleheaders and the impact they had on my knees.
We weren't so much as surprised by the foul weather as we were disappointed by it. Every year around New Year's time the team held a meeting after school on a Friday to talk about the upcoming season and what we planned to accomplish. Even though the temperature outside was probably about six degrees, we talked and talked for hours inside our tiny warm locker room about how great it would be if we could start the practice season on time or even early that year. We talked about what we could get accomplished outside on an actual baseball field instead of inside the small gym that we shared with the girl's softball team. Our eyes would be full of hope and anticipation all the way up until that first Monday morning at 6:30 AM when we would wake up, look out our bedroom windows, and see nothing but frost covering the glass.
As you already know, the first day of practice for my senior season was no different, but like true warriors, we turned around from the field, trudged into the sleeping school, and filled the gym, throwing, hitting, and running right along with the softball team. A game of catch consisted of being no more than 20 feet from your partner. If your partner overthrew the ball, you would have to fight your natural instinct to turn around for it, because if you did, you would get plunked in the face with the ball after it bounced off the gym wall. Batting practice consisted of hitting into a net while being soft-tossed balls from a kneeling partner only feet away. Ground balls took quick mean little skips on the wood-tiled floor, usually leaving welts and gashes in your shins.
We survived that year, as we did every other year, and we ended up capturing the conference title with a win of the second game of a doubleheader on the last day of the season. I played first base the first game so I could save my knees for the second. I threw out two runners trying to steal second and took a pounding in my temple from some guy's right shoulder during a collision at home plate. In the playoffs, we lost our regional game against the defending state champs in an 11-inning fight in the blistering 75-degree heat. If it had been freezing and cloudy, we might have stood a chance. We lived, however, and some of us cried on the final bus trip home, wondering what it must be like to be able to play baseball any season of the year like they do in Florida and Arizona. Our star pitcher and a couple of other guys made it to college and they all picked a warm location in which the climate seemed invented for baseball. As for me, I think that the game of baseball can defy climate if you love it enough.
Jason Patzfahl is a die-hard Brewers fan who likes to throw peanut shells at the opposing batters in the on-deck circle at home games, and sends pictures of his dog's butt to Marge Schott and jail cell pics to Daryl Strawberry. Anyone know a good defense lawyer?