Maybe I shouldn’t remember this with such sentiment and import, but the mind does what it does.
In a baseball game of no consequence, I took my position in left field and waited, as all fielders must, for something to happen.
Baseball depends on this quiet waiting, a stoicism over all parts of the field as the pitcher, catcher and batter conduct their transactions. Coaches, though, instruct an unheard monologue ...”hit it to me, hit it to me,” a technique for staying prepared.
But what did I know of this, a teenager on a June night, wondering what my friends might be talking about in the stands?
To my left, the centerfielder had a trickier position if only because of the uniqueness of this ballpark.
VFW Stadium had more or less traditional dimensions along the foul lines. Yet the outfield fence followed not a common arc design but ran instead in adherence to the property line, meeting at a right angle far beyond where any batter my age could hit it.
A large wasteland would have resided there but for a grove of pine trees planted in this. Not often, a ball would be hit this distance, either a true wallop or, more embarrassing, a well-struck single that skipped last the centerfielder’s glove.
Ground rules allowed for this curiosity, and the poor soul would venture amid the low limbs, scrambling on all fours as the runner continued his trip around the bases.
My territory involved no forestry. This time I remember, though, the crack of the bat, before aluminum took over on-deck circles, alerted me to good contact, and I set off in a sprint toward the gap.
Never fleet, I had a good pace this night, and perhaps I recall it for this reason. Youth provides a lightness of movement, especially thinking back on it. My reactions felt smooth, my track precise.
In one of those rare alignments, the ball and my glove got to the same place at the same instant, me in a dead run.
As I say, I take no pride in thinking back with such clarity on what amounted to a good catch in a nothing game. I played baseball for a number of years and had a little success on some good teams. Somehow, this single incident resonates.
I thought about it Thursday night when watching the young Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. bat in the National League playoff game.
At 21, with a $100 million contract signed earlier this year, the Venezuela-born outfielder has talent of a sort that does not even translate to a single remembered catch. Where mortals lumber, he glides. In a game of statistics, his gifts can barely be quantified.
In this game against the St. Louis Cardinals, he had three hits. But in the seventh inning, Acuna hit a ball that seemed headed over the right field wall. He took some steps toward first base, admiring his own handiwork, like Narcissus staring into a pool.
Thing is, the ball fell short, hitting the wall, bouncing right to a Cardinals outfielder, and Acuna got a mere single from his long drive. The Braves would not score that inning, and they would lose the game by one run.
Acuna had been benched for his lack on hustle earlier in the year.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps,” the Gospel of Luke says, later advising, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much.”
That’s probably too much to attach to a memory and a Major League miscue, but I think for $100 million, I’d step right lively.