I love a good quest story.
The quest story narrative goes like this: The protagonist sets out on an adventurous journey in pursuit of a noble goal and faces numerous obstacles to overcome along the way.
Think Star Wars.
Or Lord of the Rings.
Or one of my all-time favorites, The Goonies. There’s a reason my next novel is a Goonies tribute novel. (If anyone knows how to contact Sean Astin, please let me know.)
Feel-good stories end when the goal is achieved. Traditionally, this is called a comedy. Failed quest narratives can also make good stories. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Braveheart or Merlin. These are also known as tragedies.
My second game in pursuit of a batting average featured several aspects of a good quest narrative.
At 3 p.m., the Ozark Mountain Ducks were to face the Branson Showmen. But, at 3 p.m., the Nixa Suckers and Republic Locos weren’t finished. Their game went eleven innings before the Suckers claimed the victory, 9–6. The first obstacle both teams faced was waiting for the game to actually start, which was further compounded by the second obstacle — the heat.
Every year, the best baseball games take place during summer’s dog days, a fact which is only accentuated by spotting a couple of dogs at the ballpark. Sunday was no exception.
The surface of the sun is hot plasma and has a temperature around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to KOLR-10 meteorologist Jamie Warriner, the high temperature on Sunday was 92 degrees with a heat index of 99. That doesn’t include the turf factor. The surface of the turf at US Baseball Park on Sunday was just a few degrees shy of the surface of the sun.
I spotted a couple of dogs surviving the heat while doing pre-game stretches. I sat down to loosen hamstrings and quads, but before I could actually attempt to loosen said muscles, I had to jump back up for fear of toasting my buns on the turf.
Standing around waiting for the start of the game, I could feel the muscles in my lower back tighten, as if they were protesting the mere thought of any physical activity. I downed one bottle of water in hopes of staying hydrated.
Each team felt the full effects of the heat. Multiple times throughout the game, we had to take breaks to tend to players, taking water and helping ward off heat exhaustion. Jon “The Barber” Arzt almost passed out during an at bat. With each passing inning, the heat sapped strength from our legs and tested our minds’ ability to focus, to stay in the moment.
Another part of a quest narrative is a worthy adversary.
The Branson Showmen proved themselves to be quite the worthy adversary. The Showmen scored first, tacking on one run while Andy Galle kept the Ducks off the bases. Both teams displayed solid defense, including a great play by Ducks’ outfielder Shane Hurrelbrink. In the fifth inning, with runners on first and second, Showmen slugger José Vargas stepped up to the plate facing Ducks’ rookie pitcher Nick Young. The runners took off on a double steal as Vargas laced a line drive to right. Hurrelbrink caught the ball and doubled the runner off of first, ending the scoring threat.
In the sixth inning, Ducks’ catcher Trevyn Batey smoked a line drive up the third base line to give the Ducks the lead 2–1, while Young kept the Showmen off the board in the bottom half of the inning.
Rex Hudler, the effervescent Royals broadcaster full of wit and wisdom, frequently says that pinch hitting is one of the hardest things to do in baseball. Grabbing a helmet and bat, coming off the bench, and then trying to find some way to put a ball in play is a skill acquired through great discipline.
My second attempt to obtain a batting average would be as a pinch hitter facing Cole Roark, the 2019 GRBL Pitcher of the Year and assistant coach of the Licking High School baseball team.
I am a Cole Roark fan. Over the past couple of seasons, I have watched Cole pitch several games. I have visited with him about how he holds various pitches and how he thinks as a pitcher. I love the work he’s doing with his ballplayers in Licking and can’t wait to visit the new training facility there once it’s finished. I’m equally impressed by the work he’s doing as a youth minister and teacher, shaping young people to be quality people wherever they may go.
(And Cole knows a thing about going places. He attended sixteen schools before he graduated high school.)
Cole throws hard and Cole’s pitches have a lot of movement.
If I could square up one of Cole’s pitches, there’s a chance my dream of a gap-shot double could become a reality. If I squared up one of Cole’s pitches and if I got that dreamed-of double, I had committed to sending the ball — oh, I will definitely stop the game and get that ball — to my nephew Henry. I would inscribe the ball in all caps, “DOUBLE. AGAINST COLE ROARK. AUGUST 22, 2021,” and then place it in a plastic cube where it would be carefully preserved for future generations.
I’m not certain that’s done in the movies, where characters keep mementos from quests fulfilled, but it’s something that we do in life. We take pictures and obtain autographs and collect a plethora of keepsakes to help us remember those times we were at our best or accomplished something truly memorable. We keep trophies in a variety of forms as our prizes.
I wanted a baseball trophy to send to Henry.
But squaring up one of Cole’s pitches is an awfully big “if.”
After stretching out all my muscles and before the extra-inning wait, I stepped into the batting cages to do my batting practice work against Caleb Cole, shortstop for the Ducks. The owner of Redline Athletics and a stand-out ballplayer at Drury University, Caleb is the best thrower for batting practice, period. If I could hire Caleb as my own personal batting practice thrower, I would. But I’m not Julio Franco.
“Swing’s looking good,” Caleb told me after my round. “Good hands.”
To my now-47-year-old ears, and especially coming from Caleb, those words really meant something.
Shane was the lead-off hitter in the top of the seventh, the first to brave Cole’s pitches. Cole struck him out swinging on a cut fastball.
I took cuts with my trusty and relatively un-game-used Rueb Bat in the on-deck circle working on timing.
A quick word about Rueb Bats. Brock Chaffin, the manager for the Springfield Mets, makes the bats as the featured bat company of the GRBL. Proceeds from bat sales benefit local animal shelters. The bats feel great in the hands and not only sound good during batting practice, but do good work on the field. And they’ve got a cool logo.
I took a breath on my way to the plate, tipped my hat to Cole, and geared up for a first pitch fastball.
The fastball looked good out of his hand, but cut in on my hands. I took a hack and made contact — ! — with the ball hitting the bat between my hands and the logo. The ball fouled back to the screen. But the bat cracked. I felt it immediately and bounced it on the turf to confirm — a nice horseshoe shape pointing toward the handle.
“I was trying to get you to move your feet,” Cole told me later.
I started to jog back to the dugout to pick up my replacement bat, which was at the far end of the dugout, when my teammates called out to me, “Slow down! He broke your bat, you can make him wait!” That made me laugh.
Teammates who can make you laugh are a gift.
I took another deep breath and stepped back in the box. The one-strike pitch was off-speed, high and away. No swing, the count evened out.
The third pitch, Cole came back inside, but it was high. I didn’t move my feet, but did lean back a little, only to hear the ball make a solid sound. It hit the facemask of the umpire directly, ricocheting toward the first base dugout.
Lester, the umpire and a Catch 365 partner, assured me that the mask did its job, that he was ok. Even with his reassurances, it was hard not to be concerned.
The 2–1 pitch changed the at bat. I thought I was ready for another fastball.
Narrator: He wasn’t.
It was high and I swung late. I could not abide by the advice of A League of Their Own legend Dottie Hinson, “Lay off the high ones!”
I laughed at myself, “What 47-year-old idiot swings at an eye-high fastball on 2-1?”
The catcher laughed and replied, “You do.”
I laughed again.
If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no business being on a baseball field.
A 2-2 fastball brought another swing and miss and I proved Rex Hudler’s aphorism true — pinch hitting is hard work.
Upon returning to the dugout, I was completely surprised when several teammates encouraged me after my strikeout.
“You looked good up there!”
“Those were swings looking to do something,” Mark said. “I’ve watched you for three years, now. You’re getting better.”
They really do know how to make a guy feel good.
I picked up the broken Rueb Bat and thought about asking my daughter to paint it for me when I had a second idea. The bat-trophy goes to Cole. It’s a promise that, once his baseball facility is finished in Licking, I’ll come do a storytelling to benefit his program. Maybe he’ll throw me some batting practice, too.
Of the five of us who practiced together on Friday mornings this past summer, I remain the only one hitless. Mark (Ducks), Gerry (Mavericks), Colin (Mets), and Grady (Suckers) all have batting averages and, I believe, have driven in runs.
What will I do if my GRBL baseball story is a failed quest narrative?
For the Kansas City Royals, the 2014 season was a failed quest narrative. In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, facing the southpaw pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, with the tying run on third base, Salvador Perez popped out to Pablo Sandoval in foul territory. The Giants won the World Series.
In 2015, Salvador Perez was the World Series MVP for the champion Royals.
What will I do if my GRBL baseball story is a failed quest narrative?
I’ll keep swinging.
I’ll keep playing.
Because the moment we believe our best days are in our past is the moment we forget what it means to truly live.
**Congrats to Tyler Jones on the grand slam! That was epic.