It’s a unique title isn’t it; Baseball through the eyes of a .263 hitter? Why would anyone care what a .263 hitter has to say? Well I played baseball from age 11 through age 16. In my six separate seasons from little league all the way to one year of summer high school baseball, I was a .263 hitter. I wasn’t great. In fact many times I was below average. However I loved the game of baseball and continued to play over the course my childhood.
I have a few moments in baseball that may seem small to most. However to me these moments brought joy and happiness. After each and every moment I would smile a boyish smile and revel in the fact that I was playing baseball. The passion of the game resonated in each moment and I want to share these moments that mean so much to me.
For example I remember my first hit like it was yesterday. It was half way through my first season of 4th grade baseball. I was hitless on the year and was pressing at the plate. Every at bat was either a strikeout or a walk. There was no contact from my bat to the baseball.
It was a Spring and I was already 0-2 on the day with two strikeouts. We entered the bottom of the final inning and I was the third batter up. My poor mother was in the stand sitting next to the other parents. She seemed more nervous than I was. She brought her Rosary Beads to the game that day and prayed I get a hit. The first two were strikes right down the middle of the plate. I looked at the umpire and argued with the call inside my head. The catcher threw the ball back to the mound and I took a deep breath. Part of me thought I would strike out again and continue my horrible season. However there was another part of me that knew I could succeed.
The opposing pitcher wound up and threw a fastball on the outer half of the plate. As a left handed hitter I loved pitches on the outside part of the plate. My eyes lit up as I saw the baseball and put a swing into my bat. For the first time all season my bat made contact with the baseball. It was a ground ball up the middle for a base hit; my first career hit in baseball. I was screaming at first base. The opposing team and even my own teammates looked at me funny. It was just a single. Why was he screaming like he just won the World Series? To be honest hitting that single was my World Series. I finally got a hit. After the game I hugged my mom and she told how proud she was of me. That moment meant a lot for a player who wasn’t a star or who wasn’t popular. I finally got my first hit , but I also got something more important. I instilled a belief in myself. It was then I knew that I could get a hit in baseball and had the hope to get some more.
Another moment I remember was a moment during my 7th grade season. I had played baseball for three years now and loved every minute at it. My primary position was 1st base and I loved playing there. I loved catching the baseball, making double plays. Heck I even loved making errors! (OK I won’t push it!)
We entered extra innings in a regular season game. There was two outs in the top of the inning when an opposing batter on the other team hit a pop fly to me at first base. Rain drops were beginning to fall and it was hard to see the baseball. I managed to get underneath the ball and catch it in midst of the rain drops. For some reason catching the ball gave me a sense of confidence. I knew I would lead off the bottom of the inning and knew I wanted to make a difference for my teammates.
I worked the count to 2-0 and ended up hitting a pop up single to right field. I clapped my hands together upon reaching first base and turned to look at my coach. I smiled and said “Let’s do this!”
The next batter struck out. However my hope didn’t diminish. On a 1-0 count to our regular lead off hitter, I made a break for second base. Those who know me know I’m not known for my speed. However the pitcher had a slow delivery to home plate. I thought I had a good shot to beat the throw. By the grace of God I did and had stolen second base. I was in scoring position with one out and knew my teammates would drive me in; and that’s exactly what they did.
The next batter singled to left center field. The left fielder got the ball as soon as I touched third base. Normally I would’ve held at third, but something inside me told me to run. So I ran like the wind (or at least ran like a slightly fast turtle) home. I sled into home plate beating the throw. We had won the game! My teammates mobbed me at home plate. It was the only time I ever scored on a walk off hit. My teammates gave me the game ball that day and my coach even told me “The game ball goes to speedy MO-ZALEZ. I didn’t know you had such wheels!” The fact is I didn’t know I had such wheels. In fact I know for a fact that I don’t. It was one of those special moments that made me smile. I had come up in the clutch and felt like I belonged in the game of baseball.
The final moment I want to share was during my final season of baseball. I was playing in the PBI Summer Baseball League and it was my first game as a High School Student. I was nervous because I hadn’t played baseball in more than a year. I didn’t make my High School team Freshmen year and thought my baseball days were done. However the following summer I joined the PBI Summer League because I wanted one more hurrah in the game.
My first game of the season took place in northern New Jersey. I think it was in Bergenfield, but I’m not 100% sure. Anyway I was facing a right handed pitcher. My father was watching me behind home plate. It was my first game in so long and it felt great knowing he was there to support me. The righty threw one pitch and I took a swing and hit a line drive past the third baseman down the left field line. I loved hitting the ball the other way and had a huge smile on my face as I rounded first base. I ran back to first after noticing the left fielder got the ball quickly and threw it in. I got a single in my first high school at bat! It was a great memory to be sure, but the memory was not yet over.
The next batter singled to right field and I advanced to second base. The following batter then grounded out into a fielder’s choice. I was at third base and my teammate was at first with nobody out. My manager (who was also my third base coach) came up to me and whispered “if the runner tries to steal second I want you to steal home.” I was shocked when he said this. Everyone knew I was the slowest kid on the team. No one would ever think I would steal second base; let alone home in a scoreless game!
Well sure enough on the next pitch, my teammate attempted to steal second. The catcher threw the ball to second and I was off. Everyone on the other team was shocked. I think my Dad even chocked on his Gatorade! Yet there I was, Mr. Slow himself trying to pull a Jackie Robinson and steal home. The second baseman cut off the throw and fired the ball home. The throw was up the third base line. Both the ball and myself arrived at the same time. I sled into home plate. At first I saw the umpire about to signal out when we both realized the catcher dropped the ball. I then touched home plate again just to make sure I was safe. Sure enough the umpire signaled safe. I was screaming for pure joy! My teammates high-fived me in the dugout. I scored the team’s first run of the season by stealing home. My dad came up to me laughing and said: I always knew you could play first base, but I didn’t know you could hit like that. And I definitely didn’t know you could run!”
It was a proud moment for me. I often joke to my friends that I set a league record that day; slowest kid to ever steal home! However it wasn’t stealing home that made me proud. It was knowing that I could succeed in high school baseball when many people didn’t think I could.
I played six seasons of baseball from little league through High School. I kept track of my hits and found out that my batting average hovered at .263. My OBP was .360. I never hit a HR, a triple or double. I made plenty of errors and the occasional surprising play. So some of you reading this article are probably thinking; Why is he telling us these stories about his past? Is he trying to relive his glory days or something? The answer is simple; No, I’m not trying to relive my glory days because I don’t believe I’ve lived my glory days yet. I share these stories as a small lesson. It doesn’t matter whether you hit .500, .386 or even .263. If you love the game of baseball then play it. Enjoy the game and have fun. Baseball is a game meant to be enjoyed not because you want to make it to the Major Leagues; but for the love and passion of the game itself.