I don’t normally write about sports, but this week I couldn’t resist:
Tuesday early evening, following deadline, following a nap, I thought about a walk, though the weather looked uninviting — cold, wet, gray. Weather for grass-lovers, I call it. Grass thrives in our chilly, sluggish spring. But I don’t. The town turns into Mudville. But my better angels won out, so I took it in stride and was glad I did.
On the return portion of my loop, I passed Euclid and Ontario and heard some commotion from the nearby high school athletic fields. I continued on, then stopped and backtracked. You never know what you’ll find on the ballfields, I told myself, my better angels still in command.
In the northeast corner, girls in blue jerseys were playing catch on the sidelines of the softball field. Were they just starting? I wondered. No, just warming up for the bottom of the seventh inning.
I couldn’t see the scoreboard from my post outside the fence on Linden Street, a good distance from the diamond, but I knew if the home team was still playing in the bottom of the last inning, the game was either tied or they were behind. I was hoping for the former, and things started out well. The leadoff hitter slapped a solid single up the middle and was immediately replaced by a “courtesy” runner (curious term), who was speedy enough to advance to second base on a passed ball, and quick enough to advance to third on the ensuing ground out.
One out, runner on third.
The next batter also poked a single up the middle and the runner scored. No wild celebrations, so the home team must be losing.
The next batter hit another hard grounder, which the second baseman knocked down, but the runner on first was fast enough to beat the throw to second base.
Two on. So far, so good.
A strikeout was followed by a single through the left side of the infield. The runner on second was held at third, indicating they were more than one run behind. No use taking a chance on being thrown out at home.
Two outs, bases loaded.
Next up was OPRF’s pitcher, Alex Prouty. Pitcher vs. pitcher, mano a mano, game on the line. Quickly, she was in a hole with two strikes. The opposing pitcher, going for the kill, windmilled and delivered and, as they like to say, Prouty got all of it. A long drive, deep to left field, going, going … you know where this is going and so did the opposing team. It cleared the left field fence by plenty and also cleared the bases.
There is only one occasion when a runner lands on home plate with both feet simultaneously and disappears into a swarm of jubilant teammates and that would be a walk-off homer to win the game. When a batter comes to the plate with two outs and bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning, there is only one image running through every spectator’s brain, and when it actually happens, it feels like a small miracle. You wonder if you’re still imagining. But the wild celebration at home plate confirmed it. A five-run comeback win in the bottom of the seventh. There was joy in Mudville after all.
But the celebrating didn’t last long.
The two teams gave each other a socially-distanced, sportsmanlike wave instead of the usual long line of handshakes, which was merciful for the Mustangs of Downers Grove South in their moment of crushed hope. But for the Huskies, it was business as usual, time to groom the field and lower a portion of the outfield fence, albeit with smiles on their faces. They called out to Prouty’s family, milling nearby: “She gets dinner tonight!” Which sounds odd, but presumably they meant the dinner of her choice.
I still had no idea what the final score was, so I ambled over to the family and asked. “The score was 11-10,” I was told. “My granddaughter hit the home run!” Prouty made her family proud. I was profuse in my congratulations.
Everyone should have a moment like this in high school. Most don’t, of course, but Alex Prouty did. And it wouldn’t have happened except for the six previous hitters (and one pinch-runner) who set it all up for her.
If this column makes it into your scrapbook, Alex, and you read it years from now, as great as that walk-off grand slam was, I hope it doesn’t even crack your top 20 all-time highlights in life.
On the other hand, Prouty is a senior and after two pandemic springs, this is quite a moment to savor with just weeks till graduation. It will certainly crack her list of top 20 high school highlights.
I count myself lucky. This was my first half-inning of girls high school softball. Ever. It confirms my notion that if you hear commotion in the general vicinity of the high school athletic fields, walk on by. You might find yourself on the receiving end of an energy infusion. It’s happened to me twice now (OPRF’s marching band was the other).
I headed home with spring in my step.
And in the future if I ever find myself going back and forth about whether to go for a spring, early-evening walk?
I’m taking that walk.