Diamond sports like baseball and softball are unique in that while played as a team sport – they are full of individual confrontation. Pitcher versus hitter. Over and over again.
Yet beneath the surface of that conflict lies so much more. We watch sports because they provide opportunities for elevated moments that rarely even happen in real life, let alone seen by others.
It is often a zero sum game – for every hero there is a goat – every winner a loser. We know Ralph Branca’s name as well as we know Bobby Thompson.
What we want though is that chance to be a hero. To rise above the mundane routine of life and achieve just a piece of greatness. A higher plane.
A little over a week ago Stephen Piscotty of the Athletics lost his mom who had battled ALS. She had been diagnosed last season, and his team at that time the Cardinals worked out a trade with his hometown A’s to allow Piscotty to be closer to home.
He was able to be there for her, to comfort her in her final moments, before she passed away. He admitted he was “all cried out” after her funeral as he rejoined his team in Boston.
In his first at-bat – he did this:
— Oakland Athletics 🌳🐘⚾️ (@Athletics) May 16, 2018
Actor Christopher Reeves once said that “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
These types of moments are what drives franchises like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and The Red Rising Saga(which I just started). That us as ordinary people can face great moments and do great things. To be able to say in the words of Katniss Eberdeen: “No one will forget me. Not my look. Not my name. Katniss. The girl who was on fire.”
Yet…how often do we find those moments?
Thursday night the #1 ranked University of Oregon softball game began it playoff run and was playing a close game against #64 Albany in Eugene. The game was close – until Oregon turned to freshman and Eugene native Lauren Burke to pinch hit late in the game. She hit a home run that propelled Oregon to victory.
Friday night the Ducks once again found themselves in a close game when Burke was called on once again to pinch hit. Once again – she did not miss her moment.
— Oregon Softball (@OregonSB) May 19, 2018
It was a great moment for the freshman hometown kid playing in her biggest games to date as Oregon looks to win its first ever Womens World Series Title.
Baseball history of course is full of moments like these. Certainly another one was Dee Gordon homering after Jose Fernandez’s death and breaking down after crossing the plate if not while circling the bases. Rarely in my entire life have I seen such raw emotion in any sport.
Often, we have no idea what players are going through behind the scenes. Darryl Strawberry often commented how when he had baseball, he could stay sober. Without it, he was lost. Josh Hamilton, Matt Bush, have told similar stories with mostly happy endings as well.
These personal moments of heroism elevate sports above just 9 people on a field playing 9 more – but takes us to the level beyond. A level authors and directors bring us to in great stories and movies, yet we have the chance to really be a part of it.
David Bowie summed it all up in his song “Heroes”: “We can beat them, forever and ever / Oh, we can be heroes just for one day”.