Sunday, September 16, 2012

Somewhere Babe Ruth Is Smiling

Day 39, Sept. 15-16, 2012
Today I'm 192 pounds of rolling thunder.

Baseball legend has it that in the third game of the 1932 World Series, slugger Babe Ruth was at bat in the fifth inning when he pointed his bat at the center field fence and called his shot. On the next pitch, Ruth hit the ball out of the park in the center field area where he had just pointed.

It's the stuff baseball lore is made of. Part truth. Part fabrication. Part magic.

On Saturday, our younger son took on the role of Ruth in his cross country meet. The lad pointed his bat and told us he was going to run a 27-minute 5K.

This is the same youth that wanted to quit three weeks ago. And the same one who came within a whisker of breaking 30 minutes for the 5K a week earlier.

But a jump of nearly three minutes. Not so fast.

Now historians agree that the legend of Ruth's called shot is politely referred to as ambiguous. While the event is caught on film, it remains unclear if Ruth was pointing at center field, the pitcher or a bunch of hecklers on the opposing team's bench.

The result, however, is indisputable. 

Now granted this was going to be the flattest and fastest course of the year, but to make a two to three-minute jump in one meet's time seemed beyond probable.

The day broke cool and overcast, and the racers toed the line at about 9:30 in the morning. The course loops through the grounds several times so we would be able to see the lad's progress as he tried to keep pace.

By the first loop he had fallen back, but was still in reach of the end of the pack. He had gone out faster than normal trying to stay in the slipstream of the pack. 

By the second loop through, he was still within reach of the last of the pack. I looked over at the timer and the pace was indeed fast. But would it be fast enough?

The leaders streamed over the hill and through the crowds to a downhill finish. The crowds formed a chute that resembled a scene out of the Tour de France. Runners had to snake their way through the maze of humanity to find the finish. 

Runners poured over the finish. We had become accustomed to waiting for our lad to plow through, so when the clock ticked 27 minutes I turned a hopeful eye up the hill to see if by some miracle he was defying logic and living up to his pre-race prediction.

Twenty-seven minutes came and went and I resigned myself to the hope that he would go sub-30, which would be a personal best and worth the price of admission.

At 28 minutes, a fluffy-tuft of hair poked up above the crest of the hill and then a familiar gait of a runner started making its way toward the finish. He paused, holding back the urge to vomit (well, sort of). 

I don't know if it was the crowd yelling, or catching a glance at the timer at the finish line, but the lad rolled down to a 28:15 finish. He had called his shot. He had come within an eyelash of hitting that home run and going under 28 minutes.

What started out as a sucker bet had come very close to becoming a reality.

And while the newspapers and websites will talk about the winners of the varsity races and all the personal bests, this was the stuff of cross country legends. Somewhere, Babe Ruth is smiling.

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