From the Bleachers
A ‘big’ Little League memory
By Adam Prestridge
With a wad of Big League Chew in his mouth, the batter stepped into the box, kicked the dirt from his cleats and slowly practiced his swing.
It was a warm spring day at the ballpark and excitement filled the air.
The pitcher circled the mound, cleared the area in front of the rubber, went into his wind up and released his fastball.
The pitch crowded the inside of the plate, brushing the batter back. For a 12-year-old baseball player, a fastball in the 80s was fast, real fast.
The catcher smiled, tossed the ball back to the pitcher, who quickly fired off another pitch, this time a curve.
The batter took a powerful cut; strike two! The pitch barely reached the plate before it took a dive into the dirt.
The next two pitches missed evening the count at 2-2, but the pitcher wasn’t struggling, he wanted to make the at-bat more challenging. He was the best in the league and it wasn’t rare for him to strikeout the side and head back to his sunflower seeds in the dugout.
Unaware of the generous cat and mouse game the pitcher was playing, the batter stepped out of the box, tightened his batter’s glove and took a deep breath. He stepped back in the box, eyed the pitch and crack; foul ball!
The pitcher showed his first sign of concern, pounded the ball in his glove and rifled a fastball past the batter; ball three! The pitch was high, the first out-of-control pitch offered up that day.
With the score tied, the pitcher was in a jam. It may very well have been his first time in a pickle throughout his young career, but it wouldn’t be his last. He dug down deep and tossed a rocket towards the plate; plunk!
The speedball struck the batter in the left thigh.
After a few seconds to walk the Charlie horse out, the batter took his base.
Looking back now, that one at-bat was the start of two careers.
The pitcher, B.J. Green, went on to bigger and better things. He became the ace pitcher in the stable for Gardendale High School, setting numerous state records on the mound. When he pitched, Major League Baseball scouts came out in droves with radar guns in hand as he dazzled them with his speed and pinpoint precision.
The Texas Rangers drafted B.J. straight out of high school, but he turned the contract down for a full ride to the University of Alabama. He had early success pitching for the Crimson Tide, but was later plagued with injuries that benched him and ultimately ended his chances at a professional career. Following graduation, he became an assistant coach on the Tide’s baseball team.
Stepping into that batter’s box with B.J. on the mound was definitely intimidating, but watching him rise to professional caliber fueled this reporter’s desire to follow more young athletes in their quests to make it to the next level.
The next time we met, with butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I cracked the first pitch he threw and bounced it off the green wall in centerfield. Even though it was inches from sailing over the fence for a grand slam, it settled the score. Two runs crossed the plate on the long single and the Kansas City Royals went on to victory, upsetting the eventual league champions.
Upon returning to that same ballpark to cover numerous Little League games, some at that very field, the green wall was always a reminder of that day. A hole still remained in the wall from the force of the hit. It was still there when I left home.
That day was my time to shine on the diamond, if only for a few minutes. Now my days are spent giving young athletes, the superstars and the one-time stars, their time in the limelight.
Adam Prestridge is publisher of the Atmore Advance. He can be reached at 368-2123 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org