The Hitting Zone - Chapter 1130
I went back to my position, keeping an eye on the new runner at second.
He noticed me and smiled. "You remember me from the Christmas tournament, right? We met in the trainer's tent."
"Ignore him, Jake." Noah said from the otherside.
I backed up to put my heels on the grass and looked at the next batter. Noah can take care of the runner on second by himself. He was better at multitasking and knew I might get distracted if it was me instead.
The next batter attacked early, making contact on the first pitch. He popped it high into the air towards left field. Jason started to back up, but noticed Noah running back at an angle and then there was Logan running in.
"I've got it!" Noah called off both Jason and Logan.
Jason peeled away, but Logan kept coming in. The runner on second had long taken off. As he should with two outs.
"Got it!" Noah repeated right before catching the fly ball. He looked to Logan and said something before tossing the ball to him. Logan threw the ball to me in the infield. I simply rolled it to the mound and jogged towards the dugout with the rest of the guys.
Garret was waiting for me just inside the dugout, talking to Coach. He noticed me and pulled me over. "Okay Jake, we've got some time now. What was it that you saw?"
I lowered my voice. "I don't know what I saw, but it didn't look right." I turned my back to the outside of the dugout so no one from the other dugout could see me. "Normally when you dust yourself off, it's like this, right." I showed them using both hands. "But the first baserunner, did this." I used my right hand and wiped down my jersey twice.
Coach frowned. "Definitely unusual."
"It just looked weird. And then Garret gave up a hit right away so I really felt weird." I told them.
"You were suspicious." Garret corrected me. "And rightfully so. After that small warning, I didn't exactly throw what Mitchell asked for. It's why the batter popped out I think. He was expecting something else."
"I didn't look at the runner the second time." I said. "Noah told me to focus on the batter." I started to worry. "What are we going to do if they're really…" I whispered. "Stealing signs?"
"We take away the easy signs that decide inside or outside." Coach stated. He looked to Garret. "You and I will go talk to Mitchell and try to change it up a little bit." He looked at me. "You get ready for your at bat and don't worry about the signs. You have your job and the battery will have theirs."
I nodded, happy to get it off my chest. I went to the little cubby holder and changed out my glove and hat for my batting gloves and helmet. Then I pulled out my bat and stood just in the hole, watching as the bottom of the inning started with Bryce.
The pitcher wasn't familiar which was a little bit of a surprise. I think the last guy did alright. And I remember the reliever was a lefty. Neither of them were on the mound now though. I was unsure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Too soon to make any judgements.
Bryce fouled off a couple of pitches, falling early to an 0-2 count, but he was still able to get the ball into play, ripping a hard grounder to short. The shortstop was able to handle it well though, making a backhanded stop and threw Bryce out at first.
Noah had picked up his bat for him and handed it to him, listening to something he had whispered. Bryce made a stop by me too as I was coming out of the dugout and he was heading in. "This guy is hittable. Speed only in the 70s."
I nodded and we parted. I took practice swings in the on deck circle, mostly focusing on Noah's at bat. Noah didn't swing early like Bryce did, letting the count climb to 2-1. Then on a close pitch he swung, connected, and fouled it back. 2-2. Next pitch went into the dirt, making the count full. Noah watched the following pitch and it was close. The umpire gave it to Noah for ball four. A walk. Noah ditched his bat and jogged to first.
Moment of truth for me now. I steadily walked to the plate as my name and position was announced. I could hear some shouts and cheers for me, but all my attention was on the catcher. He settled into a squat position. I strained my hearing, trying to find out if he had already said intentional walk or not.
"Batter up." The umpire glanced at me, prompting me to hurry up.
I hurried to step in the box, simply choosing to be a righty because I was closest to that side. I didn't even look at Mr. Miller because I was so stunned. The first pitch came a bit inside, but still within the zone.
"Strike." The umpire gestured.
The catcher threw the ball back to his pitcher and I finally believed that I was being pitched too. I took a step back and glanced at Mr. Miller down the third baseline. He signed for me to swing and miss while Noah was going to steal. With a runner in scoring position, I could easily drive him home. I acknowledged with a touch of my helmet lip and got back in the box.
The pitcher got set and started his motion. Once he was committed, Noah took off in a hard sprint. The pitch came and I swung and missed dramatically, trying to throw off the catcher. The catcher jumped up after catching the ball, but didn't get the throw off.
Just as I was feeling happy for Noah and eager for the next pitch, I heard something unbelievable.
"We're going to intentionally walk number zero." The catcher said.
My head whipped back to the catcher and umpire.
The umpire pointed towards first. "Take your base." He raised four fingers for the scorekeeper to show that it was an intentional walk.
I tossed my bat back towards my dugout and slowly jogged to first.
"What's going on??"
"They're walking him?"
"They're really walking him!"
"Challenge the batter!"
The yells rained down my whole trip to first base. I reached the bag and slapped Coach Riley's outstretched hand.
"I think you're the only guy I know to get intentionally walked on an 0-2 count." The first baseman told me as he got into position, just a few feet of the bag.
"Says a lot about your pitcher and team." Coach Riley answered him, surprising me. I glanced back at him. He gave a friendly smile. "Don't forget who is behind you."
Right. I took a deep breath and settled my thoughts. I took a bit of a lead, trying to stay in between the first baseman and the bag.
Garret was announced and stood tall in the lefty's box. I didn't even have time to think about Mr. Miller's sign to run on contact because Garret connected on the very first pitch. I jumped a little and took off for second, watching his hit fall into the gap of left-center. I looked at Mr. Miller and saw that he had already waved Noah to go home. I stepped on second and headed for third.
Mr. Miller signaled to stay up. So I let up and stopped on third base, trying to catch my breath.
"Good run." Mr. Miller told me, patting my shoulder. He lowered his voice and spoke close to my ear. "One out, runner on first and third. I want you to go home if it's a grounder but if it's a fly ball, stay back at the bag."
I nodded. We had already tied up the game at one. It would be good to score more, but there was still a chance for a double play.
Brian was up next. He tapped his bat against his cleats, knocking some dirt off before stepping up. He fouled the first pitch off and let the next pass for a ball. On the 1-1 count, he smacked a grounder right up the middle. I took off for home.
Sean had moved the bat out of my way and yelled out, "No slide!"
I stepped on home plate, making it 2-1. Such a good feeling. I slapped hands with Sean and headed to the dugout. Jason gave me a fist bump as he came out and I went in.
I went down the whole dugout, high fiving everyone. Then I went back to the cubby to change out my gear.
"Good quality running." Coach told me. "You're looking very comfortable out there."
I scratched the back of head. "Thanks. I just really wanted to contribute."
Coach chuckled. "You're enough, Jake."
I smiled happily and went to join Noah on the bench.