It’s funny how life puts you in situations where you ask yourself, “If it was me, how would I react?” This happened to me in a way that will be remembered for years to come.
It was in the Minnesota High School Baseball Sectional finals, and in what was to be, my chance to close out the final chapter of my baseball playing days in glory. Our team only needed to win one of two games against Mounds View High to move onto state, and we already beat them 3-2 just a few days earlier. I was riding high from delivering the game-winning hit in that game after 13 innings of what can only be described as epic. It’s the greatest feeling to deliver a game-winning hit, and they don’t come as often as you think. That win guaranteed us a spot in the sectional championship game. This was our chance to shine, and all we had to do was win one game. Mounds View had to play themselves out of the losers bracket. We can win one of the two games for sure. Easy, right?
Game one didn’t go as planned, and both teams pounded out too many runs that resembled more of a softball score than a baseball. We ended up on the losing end of it with a 17-10 defeat. Our dugout was filled with part frustration and part fear. We wanted to go to state so bad. When you know that these games are the last time you are going to put on your uniform, they impact your thoughts. For me, I knew I wouldn’t be moving on to play baseball in college, and I knew my upcoming orientation visit to Marquette was where the chapter of my book was turning. Trade in the bat and glove for books on Biomechanics and Sports Medicine.
Game two was the complete opposite. A total pitching duel all game, and we couldn’t find a way to string our hits together to get rid of the impending pressure we were feeling. We had a few errors that were costly, and we were facing down the barrel of a 4-0 deficit. When it came to the last inning, and I knew I’d be the fourth hitter to come up, I had some emotions that this could be the end. I also had dreams that I could be the one to tie this game with one swing, if the other three hitters got on base before me. I got the game-winning hit against them last time; why would this be any different?
The pitcher on the mound for the last inning is Ty Koehn for Mounds View, which makes the situation more personal for me. Ty and I are childhood friends, and we played baseball growing up since we were 8 years old. We were teammates for many more years than we were opponents. We just took a trip together with some other friends to Ty’s parent’s cabin in Grand Marias last fall. Now we are getting ready to compete against one another for survival.
There were no bases-loaded opportunity for me as Ty got two of the previous batters out, and now with a runner on second, I faced a game-ending out, or a hit or walk to stay alive. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about facing my friend. It was just a pitcher, and I was just going through my routine at bat. Take a deep breath, and get my head cleared. Ty, being left-handed, came at me with a backdoor curveball that he got over for a strike. And now it’s 0-1. Ty came back with an outside fastball and missed the zone, so now 1-1. This is where the nerves settled in, and all I can remember is that I fouled off two or three pitches. Then he threw another ball. The count was 2-2. The tension was in the air, and everyone was hanging on to the next pitch. I knew it, and he knew it. One will win, and the other will lose. Bragging rights for years to come. Ty came with a pitch that hit the outside corner for strike three, and then everything went silent in my head. It was over. I was shocked and just stood there not wanting to move. My career is over. Emotions can’t describe the loss at that moment.
As I stood there reflecting what just happened, I feel someone put their arms around me. It was Ty. In his typical classy way, he says to me, “You know that isn’t your fault, and you can’t blame yourself. Keep your head up.” His actions and words took the sting away, and most importantly, it was a moment that defined our friendship.
The moment was captured on video, and the whole thing went viral. The story kept getting shared and retweeted and so on. After all of the sharing and press, I look back and see that although the outcome isn’t what I wanted, it made a bigger impact than any hit I could have had. It was bigger than the game.
What I learned as an athlete
Baseball is game, and there are things in life that are more important than a game. It is about the friendships and relationships.
How I plan to apply what I learned to business and life
I wondered that if I was the one pitching, and Ty was the one hitting would I have done the same thing? I like to think so. Regardless I’m more prepared to pay it forward after what Ty did for me.