A couple days ago, the Royals tied their team record for most home runs in a single game.
Losing 5 – 1 at the end of two innings, the Royals hit six home runs on the way to scoring 14 runs against the Tigers. Because I don’t know how long the MLB season will actually last, I stood up and celebrated and cheered every single round-tripper as if I were actually in the stadium.
Home runs and those who hit them are part of our cultural legacy.
Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron.
Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World.
Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 World Series Walk-off.
And my personal favorite: Alex Gordon’s 2015 World Series Game 1 Blast to Centerfield.
Home runs fill us with wonder and awe. That feeling of wonder is a window to the soul. The ability to experience wonder is key in staying young at heart and choosing hope in the midst of life’s tests and trials. I’m convinced that feeling of wonder is what kept Buck O’Neil listening for “that sound.”
I have never hit a home run.
I came close on two occasions.
In fifth grade, I hit one to left field that bounced of the top of the chain-link fence and ricocheted straight to the left fielder. I had to hustle to get a triple. My third base coach gave me several high fives and said, “I thought that was gone.”
In my last season of high school baseball, as a skinny sophomore on the junior varsity team at Kickapoo High School, we had a road game in Branson. I have some very odd and specific memories of that game.
Players from the varsity were in the stands as both teams traveled to the ballpark together, leaving school a few hours early. It was one of the few occasions where I missed class because of baseball.
As a freshman, several of the varsity ballplayers befriended me, letting me know that they were in my corner. When I walked through the halls, they shouted out made up nicknames and gave me hand-stinging high fives.
When I approached the plate in that game against Branson, the varsity players started shouting out my nicknames. It was impossible to ignore them. I smiled to myself and stepped in the batter’s box. I am fairly certain it was a first pitch fastball that I barreled on a borrowed bat. To date, it’s probably the farthest I have ever hit a baseball. The ball took off on a high arc down the third base line and, at the last minute, ever so slightly, turned foul.
The volume of the cheers from the varsity players tripled. I am positive my head turned Rudolph-Nose Red under my helmet. And that at bat was the only time I struck out in my high school career.
In 2016, I once practiced with the Drury University softball team, trying to get ready for a Home Run Derby in honor of SuperBo Macan. Using a wooden bat, after significant coaching, I finally hit three home runs. I didn’t run the bases, but I was sorely tempted.
Bombs 4 Bo was the official name of the event. Hosted at Shawnee Mission North High School, where Bo’s sister Leksi attended, my friend Chris — The Fake Ned on Twitter — was the guest deejay. When my name was called to take my swings, I had to ask to borrow a softball bat. Five swings. Five chances to take one yard. I put everything I had into the first swing and caught Chris’s attention. I heard him say my name over the speakers. “Ethan Bryan gave that one a ride!”
But it was caught, well short of the warning track. None of my other hits came anywhere close to the fence. At least I didn’t whiff.
I remember playing catch with Pittsburgh Pirates great Bill Virdon a couple years ago. He told me the Pirates asked him to play in a handful of games in 1968 after he retired in 1965. The only hit Bill Virdon had in 1968 was a bottom-of-the-ninth-inning, game-tying home run.
Robert Benson has been a mentor of mine for the last decade. I sent him a copy of A Year of Playing Catch, hoping for his endorsement, nervous about what he’d say about the story. After waiting for next-to-forever, his words appeared in my inbox.
I now know how it feels to hit a home run. Hopefully, my next one will have something resembling “that sound.”
If, at the age of 75 Luke Appling can hit a home run, and if Big Sexy, Bartolo Colón, can hit a home run, then maybe I’ve still got a chance.
Keep listening and looking for wonder.
Pre-order your copy of A Year of Playing Catch here or at your favorite local bookstore and you can read about the home run Leksi Macan hit.