The Cycle

March 18, 2011

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Vance Barkley slammed the black Mizuno bat against the dirt. The donut dropped to the earth and landed with a thud. Barkley took a look around Grayson Stadium, his home for the past twelve years. He watched as a gust of wind blew a hot dog wrapper into a nearly empty section.

Appropriate that he should have such a send off. Barkley had always been a serviceable player – sometimes a starter, sometimes a reserve – but never a star. He was still a solid defender, but the bat that had once been slightly below average had become a liability, even for the hapless Dragons. Two years remained on his contract, but Barkley had made his mind up – he would walk away from the game at the end of the year. His retirement would free up some cash in the Dragons payroll and let the team fill his roster spot with an up and coming youngster from AAA.

Tucked away in the upper reaches of the stadium, a father and son were enjoying a momentous occasion – the first baseball game the kid had attended. They had taken turns recording plays on the scorecard and filling their bellies with hot dogs and cotton candy.

“Look at this,” the dad said. “Barkley got a triple in the third inning, then the homer in the fifth, and he doubled off the left field wall in the seventh. You know what that means?”

“Holy cow,” exclaimed the eight year old. “The bum just needs a single to hit for the cycle.”

“Indeed. The bum just needs a single to hit for the cycle.”

The kid on the mound had been called up from the minors in early September – a beneficiary for rosters being expanded for the final mound of the season. The consensus was that the kid would be a star one day – but he was getting knocked around pretty good so far during his first stint in the bigs.

Barkley dug into the batter’s box, tapped the plate, and stared down the kid. The first pitch was two feet over Barkley’s head and bounced harmlessly off the backstop. The kid snapped his glove angrily when a ball was tossed back to him. He overcompensated on the next pitch, a fifty nine footer that bounced across the plate inches off the ground.

The kid was talking to himself on the mound. The third baseman, Jansen, jogged to the mound to give the kid encouragement. Jansen slapped to kid on the rump with his glove and retreated back to the hot corner.

The third pitch nipped the corner of the plate at 97 miles per hour, down and away from Barkley. Barkley could see that the kid had a new ration of confidence. The fastball low and away was the pitcher’s second best friend, and Barkley knew the kid would try it again.

Barkley uncoiled and drove the next pitch straight toward Jansen at third base. The ball ricocheted off Jansen’s glove and continued into left center field.

As Barkley approached first base, he saw that the outfielders had gotten a late break on the ball and were loafing toward it. He never slowed, making the turn toward second base and sliding in ahead of the late throw. He popped up and clapped his hands together. He was in scoring position – a hit would tie the game.

The kid on the mound made Kershaw look foolish, striking him out on three straight pitches. Barkley remained crouched near second base for a moment, taking in the moment, before making the slow walk back to the dugout.

“What a loser,” commented the kid. “He should have stopped at first and gotten his cycle. He cost himself a spot in the history books.”

“He put the team first, son. He put the team first.”

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