Jayson was on the verge of an epic accomplishment. His team had overcome enormous odds. The shelves of the trophy cabinet outside the principal’s office were collecting dust. Now, the Titans were an out away from a state championship and that coveted first trophy.
Jayson toed the rubber. He shouldn’t have been pitching this game. He was a reliever, responsible for filling innings when their team was woefully behind. He had become a regular contributor, before this improbable season. With their ace pitcher twisting an ankle just minutes before the first pitch, Jayson was given the impromptu start.
It was agonizing. Each inning, Jayson had thrown up a seemingly endless supply of donuts. No runs, no hits, nothing. How long could his mediocre pitcher defy the odds? Everyone could sense the coach’s thoughts. He kept doubling down, and that’s how Jayson arrived at a different form of the baker’s dozen, twice over, twenty-six consecutive outs.
The single blemish was the batter he just pelted. Up by one run, a single out would earn Jayson a championship and a no-hitter, a holy grail for pitchers at any level.
Jayson saw Chloe in the bleachers. He’d always been smitten with her, but she was out of his league. He knew she’d come to watch Troy smack homers. Everyone did. Focus. Jayson exhaled before beginning his windup.
It took under a second for Jayson’s pitch to reach home plate, and even shorter to realize the consequences of his concentration lapse, the bat launching his offering over the fence. A perfect game had already eluded Jayson. Gone now was the no-hitter and the championship.
Jayson looked around, convincing himself this wasn’t real, that he hadn’t made that fateful pitch. The opposing team hoisting the trophy reaffirmed the reality of his nightmare. Chloe was walking towards the dugout, probably to console Troy. Jayson could see her make a mark on the dugout pole before strolling out to him still on the mound.
“Hey.” Smiling with empathy, Chloe leaned over and pecked Jayson on the cheek.
Spinning in an emotional maelstrom, Jayson was unable to grasp anything, so he returned to the last thing he remembered. “What did you do? On that post?”
Chloe blushed. “I made a mark, for every game I’ve come to watch you.”
“Me? I thought …” Honestly, Jayson wasn’t sure what he thought.
“I was waiting to see how long it would take for you to ask me out. I decided next season is too far away. How about some pizza?”
She stood on her tiptoes, removed Jayson’s cap, and slipped her ponytail through it as she nestled it on her head. With fingers intertwined, Chloe led them to a quiet table away from the celebration, two slices of pizza creating a small slice of heaven.
Numbers don’t lie. Jayson had lost his chance at baseball perfection. The once in a lifetime opportunity sitting across from him right now, however, reminded him this particular game couldn’t have ended any more perfectly.