Bottom of the 9th, #23 - Another Game, Another Day

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Bottom of the 9th - Another Game, Another Day

Another Game, Another Day

by Bob Fontneau, Valor Baseball Parent

     When I hear the words 'Bottom of the ninth', I think about endings. But every ending starts with a beginning, and every game starts with, "Play ball." 

     Our son, Matt, has never wanted to be anything but a baseball player. The joke around our house is that his first words were, "You never make the first or third out at third base." As soon as he could stand, he had a bat and ball in his hand. I taught him to throw righty and bat lefty because it gave him the most options. If I had know he'd be a pitcher, I'd have made him throw left handed and asked God that he be taller.

      All through youth baseball, I was blessed with the opportunity to coach Matt. I'm not sure if he always considered it a blessing, but I know I'll never doubt that it was. It was to his credit that he was coachable and we rarely butted heads. He played catcher and he wore the 'tools of ignorance' proudly, if sweatily. 

      We never really won anything, never played top-level travel ball, mostly AA. Other kids would leave the team, always looking for the bigger better deal, but Matt stayed with me until the year before high school when we decided it would be good for him to go play for someone else and see what that was like.

     He played for a travel team that went to Cooperstown and Omaha and he got a taste of what it was like to play against the top levels of competition. They mostly got clobbered, but they learned a lot about competing. Then, they got hot at the end of the league season and won their World Series. It was time to move on to high school. 

     The road to Valor for Matt was not a direct one. He started out in public high school, where he struggled to find himself baseball-wise, but more importantly, in the classroom. By the end of his sophomore year, we knew it wasn't working. We began to explore other options. 

     That's when His hand guided us. We had never heard of Valor Christian High School. We didn't know anything about it academically or athletically, but we had heard about it from some people we knew and decided to check it out. Matt knew what he was doing wasn't working, but there was a reluctance to leave his friends and familiar surroundings.

      That all changed when he saw Valor. From the first moment, he was made to feel welcome. It just felt right. We couldn't talk to anyone about baseball until he was registered, to comply with CHSAA regulations, but it would have to be better than where he was. Was it ever! Valor was a Godsend for Matt, academically and athletically, but most importantly in his development as a human being. 

      That leads us closer to the bottom of the ninth. 

      In the Valor baseball program, Matt found a new chance to rediscover his love for the game. The players became his extended family. Baseball chapel, wing Wednesdays, and of course practice and games, brought them as close together as any group of young men could be. They truly became a team, and Matt became a pitcher. Through hard work and the coaching of the Valor staff, he developed into a varsity-level competitor. After a brief recruiting process, Matt committed to play baseball for Augsburg College and by the time his senior year came he was excited at the promise of big things.

      The first of these big things would be a Valor Discovery trip to the Dominican Republic. There, the players got a chance to interact with kids who could only dream of the things our boys take for granted. They spent a week giving piggyback rides to kids who had nothing and laughed all day. They went down there expecting to make a difference in the lives of those kids, but, they came back forever changed themselves, and they came back as even more of a family.

      I won't go game by game, but, when Matt's senior season started, it was a rocky start against a tough front-end loaded schedule.  By the time the boys went down to Phoenix for Spring Break, no one could have blamed them for doubting themselves, but, they didn't, they banded together as a team in Arizona and came back ready to make a run.  What a run it was! After another team-building trip to the Western Slope, they found themselves right back in playoff contention. 

      The playoffs started back out west and the Eagles breezed through the first two rounds and Valor baseball found itself back in the final eight in the state. When starters struggled in the first two round-robin games, Matt got his chance to contribute. He threw 150 pitches, working both ends of a double header, getting both wins. Valor was in the semi-finals. 

     In the semi-finals the next weekend, Valor earned a loss and a win, and was in the final three in the state on the last day of the season. A win at All-City Field would put them in the final game, a loss and the season was over. Matt was on the mound. He and his teammates competed hard all day, but the mistakes in the field and the tough at bats that they had avoided throughout the amazing playoff run came back to bite them that day and they fell behind. 

      Which brings us to the Bottom of the Ninth (technically the seventh, since it's high school ball). Matt threw a complete game that day, and after 6 1/2 innings the score was 8-5, with Valor on the short end of the score. All season, they'd gotten the runs when they needed, but today the magic didn't come. A lead-off home run by AJ Cecil made it closer, but three outs later it was game, and season, over. 

     The seniors, the team leaders, were in tears.  Tears were not just because they lost the game and the chance for a championship, the real reason for the tears was that sudden realization that it was over. This banded bunch of ballplayers and brothers would never play together as a team and a family, again. That's the problem with the bottom of the ninth. You don't get to pick how it ends, and when it's over, it's over.

     Do you want to hear the beauty of baseball, and of life? The beauty is that there's always another game, another day. As Hall of Fame Cub shortstop and third baseman, Ernie Banks would say, "Let's play two." Sure, this game's over, but now Matt and the seniors are off to play college ball or do other bigger, better things. The underclassmen are back at work getting ready to try to finish the deal next year, and you know what? We have another son, Harry, who is starting school at Valor and already has dreams of wearing that Carolina blue jersey in the state playoffs.

We don't get to replay the bottom of the ninth, but it's a great day for baseball. Let's play two.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   2 Corinthians 5:17

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.   Isaiah 43:18-19

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