I swing my bat down toward my left foot to give my cleat cleaning, freeing it of all debris. Even though they were rubber cleats that rarely collected dirt, it made me feel like a big leaguer. As I raise my head, the bill of my helmet slowly unveils a classic baseball scenario told by the few working lights of the scoreboard. “B” Division championship, bottom of the 6th, the score is knotted at 4 and I am leading off the inning. I take a deep breath while I look down once more to tap my right cleat with my bat. With an exaggerated exhale, I look back to the enormous silhouette of the umpire and slowly raise my right hand, allowing me time to become comfortable in the box. Digging with my right foot on the chalk line in the back of the box, I grind the bat with both hands, twisting the handle. I get into the rhythm of the moment by performing perfectly timed half swings, like a conductor keeping his band in uniform. The pitcher and I exchange intimidating stares, at least as intimidating as a little leaguer can appear.
On my third half swing, the pitcher initiates his windup by taking a step back with his left foot. He raises both hands above and behind his head resembling pitchers of past generations. With no hesitation, he kicks up his left knee towards his chest and lunges forward, pushing off of the rubber with his right foot. His right hand exits his glove with the ball and is in a windmill motion coming towards me. When his arm reaches the top of the windmill, every things pauses. The crowd that was clapping and cheering, is no longer moving. The third base coach, my dad, freezes mid sentence, “You can do it son, give it…”. Even my own feet seem to be cemented into the light brown dirt of the batter’s box at this particular moment. The reason everything stopped, keeping everyone still, was because I recognized the pitch at the top of the motion. And any baseball player can attest to this occurrence. Although it is rare, when you play baseball long enough it is bound to happen to you. I fix my eyes on the right hand of the pitcher which is right next to his right ear, almost as if the ball is whispering into the pitchers ear, “pssst, he sees me, he knows what pitch is coming, throw me in the dirt”. His index finger, middle finger and thumb squeeze the ball tighter, maybe to put a muzzle on it, or in attempt to put a few extra miles on it. His fingers are spread two inches on the top of the ball, with his thumb securing the bottom. Fastball.
I hear the crowd continue cheering, the third base coach, “You can do it son, give it a whack!”, and the pitcher abruptly resumes his motion. Arriving in under a second, the ball enters the strike zone and I am going to make sure the pitcher knows it. Seeing the fastball out of the hand, I take a small stride and quick coil. With a mighty swing, I feel the thunderous vibration of the bat in my hands immediately followed by the release of the ball jumping off my bat. I strike the ball to the left gap between the center and left fielder; both are scrambling to obtain the ball which is rattling on the chain link fence. I round first base and nearly trip over my own feet consumed in adrenaline. I quickly gather myself and my rubber cleat safely stomps on second base. The crowd goes wild and initiates a championship chant, for we are sure to win. With three chances to advance me two bases, the odds are in our favor.
I clap my hands with my batting gloves muffling the sound, cheering on the next batter. Ryan Gardner is approaching the plate, who has two hits under his belt in the earlier innings of the game. My dad gives the signal and Ryan steps into the box with determination in his eyes looking over two eye black stripes on his cheeks. The pitcher begins his delivery, slightly jerking and visibly shaken by the situation at hand. His left foot steps back, hands fly back over his head, left knee comes to his chest and he pushes off the rubber to send his pitch towards the plate. As the pitch is mid-flight, I notice the infielders inch back in anticipation of a hard hit ball. I fixate back onto the pitch as it enters the strike zone. Ryan begins his swing with a stride toward the pitcher. At this moment, his right hand slides up the bat resting at the start of the barrel and he kneels lower to the ground. It’s a bunt! The ball hits the bat and the bunt rolls perfectly down the third baseline, flirting with the chalk foul line numerous times. The third baseman is caught off guard, back on his heels and is forced to run in, off-balance, to field the ball. With nobody occupying third base, I seize this opportunity to advance. The third baseman fields the ball and with no hesitation heaves it to first base. As I round third base, tapping the bag with my right foot, my dad holds both arms up signaling me to stop in my tracks. I turn towards the field just in time to see the ball leave the third baseman’s hand. The ball is released and is slowly gaining height as it continues on the path toward first base. The ball gets closer to it’s destination but also continues to gain height. The first baseman jumps with all the strength he could muster on such quick notice and reaches up with his 12 inch glove to snag the ball. Completely stretched out, the first baseman seems to be in the air for an eternity. He closes his glove at the peak of his leap and begins his descent, touching first base before Ryan reaches safely. But to the surprise of everyone in attendance, the first baseman has a horrified look on his face as he looks in his glove, the ball was not there. He quickly spins around toward the outfield to see the ball rolling along the fence. I pick up my sprint again down the third baseline but it seems home plate is getting further away with every step. I finally cross home with a glorious stomp on the plate, in attempt to monument this moment by stamping my rubber cleat on it. We were the champions.
That is the furthest back into my childhood, where I can think back and feel as if I was reliving it all over again. I can see and feel the Nike cleats with gray shoelaces I wore, that never collected dirt, but still clean after every pitch. I can smell the hot dogs cooking in anticipation of the end of a game and the sound of the traffic on the 99 freeway constantly rolling by the church fields. I can remember many things about my childhood, but for some odd reasons they are all sport related moments.
My name is Teddy Herrera, 24 years old from Elk Grove, CA. I have been an Elk Grove resident and participating in the Elk Grove youth sporting leagues for the past 20 years. From my championship game winning run, I went on to have a solid baseball career. I lettered three years in both baseball and football at Laguna Creek High School, graduating in 2004. After my high school career, I walked on to the baseball team at the University of Arizona, playing with them for a year. That is the point of my career where I knew I can do more than play baseball and chase only my own dream. I had gained a passion for helping others and knew I had the tools to allow others to make their dreams come true. And for me, if I could help two other people make their dream a reality, it would serve greater than my own. I returned back to my home in Elk Grove to do what I could to give back to the community that had given me so many opportunities to succeed. I coached baseball in the local Babe Ruth League and returned to my high school to assist with the rebuilding of our program. It wasn’t until a few months ago, when I realized that helping others obtain their dreams, was my dream. Although doing all I could to help with the development of out youth, I knew I always could do more. I was right.
Last month, I created an organization Across America for Childhood Obesity to combat, ultimately eliminating, childhood obesity in the inner-city communities of our great nation where limited resources hinder the opportunities for physical activity. This June 5th, I will initiate my organization’s first campaign by embarking on an 11,000 mile bicycle ride around our nation, to raise awareness on the epidemic of childhood obesity. I will be speaking at schools/rallies/sporting events, organizing awareness events with organizations forming lifelong partnerships and speaking through media outlets, further projecting my message on a larger scale. My trip will encompass over 20 major cities and amount to a duration of 10 months, creating every opportunity to reach out to youth. All of my efforts are in hopes of motivating the youth to become a more active generation than ones before, giving them the confidence to create their own championship moment, in any arena of life they choose.