A Pop Fly To The Eye And Childhood Glory: A Win-From-Within Essay

Most of you have experienced at least one shining moment of childhood athletic glory: that Hail Mary caught, that city championship, that perfect race. Writer Brett Michael Dykes (known also as Cajun Boy) had his Gatorade-shower-worthy moment, and below, he eloquently chronicles how he managed to pull off some real adolescent bravery on the baseball diamond when he was a lad in Louisiana. Warning: May cause empathetic feelings. May cause nostalgia.

When I was asked to write an essay about a moment in my life in which I experienced glory as a child or amateur athlete, my immediate thoughts turned to my journey as a basketball player (a disastrous first outing that included my first two points in a regulation game for the other team, subsequently being called “a waste of human flesh” at school, and an against-adversity triumph in the form of college scholarship offers). But as proud as I am over how that whole experience played out and helped to shape who I am today, there's another moment from my youthful athletic history that I feel is even more significant and triumphant, and it, too, involves a disastrous beginning — one even more disastrous than the start of my basketball career.

Baseball was my first athletic obsession. Each day, me and some of the other neighborhood kids, along with my beloved dog, Sissy, spent hours pretending we were major-leaguers in an open field near the house I grew up in. When I was seven, my mom signed me up to play Little League (I skipped t-ball, for some reason). And on the first day of practice I lost a pop fly in the sun that dropped down from the sky and whacked me in the face.

My nose was fractured. In addition, the impact of the ball hitting my face caused a vein to burst above my right eye. My mom rushed me to the hospital I was given a couple of pints of blood, as I recall, via transfusions, and then underwent two surgical procedures to stop the hemorrhaging. If all of this wasn't enough of a perfect storm of misery, when I got home from the hospital, I discovered that Sissy had died. Impossibly traumatized and heartbroken, I never wanted to play baseball again.

But of course when the next summer rolled around and all my friends were playing baseball I had a change of heart. So my mom agreed — even though she was probably still mildly traumatized by my baseball injury the previous summer — to sign me up for Little League again.

And so I found myself back on the ball field again a year later. After making it through initial practices untouched by tragedy, the first game of my team's season matched us up against a team whose ace pitcher was the Nolan Ryan of local Little League — the kid threw HARD, and he was the first boy my age (allegedly) I remember knowing who had something that slightly resembled a mustache on his face. And I had to hit against him.

I can vaguely remember being in the on-deck circle before going up to the plate feeling overcome with wave after wave of “OH GOD WHY DID I DO THIS?” thoughts. The ultimate answer to that question was multi-faceted, but ultimately, more than anything, I just wanted to make my mom and dad proud of me.

In my first two at-bats I was nothing less than terrified — I looked at three strikes each time without bothering to lift the bat off of my shoulder. I think that I was so overcome with fear of getting beaned by a pitch that I just sort of froze once it registered in my brain that a ball crossing the plate in the strike zone wouldn't hit me in my face if I just remained perfectly still.

Before going up to bat a third time against this third-grade flame-thrower, I remember my coach imploring me to swing the bat. I then proceeded to look at two straight strikes, which then got people in the stands, including my parents, to also implore me to swing. Figuring now that by swinging the bat I’d either make contact and possibly get a hit or get myself safely back to the dugout via a strikeout — a win-win situation to me at the time — I closed my eyes and swung as hard as I could at the next pitch. Miraculously, I made contact with the ball and sent it flying into the outfield for a double. I can still vividly remember the mix of euphoria and shock I felt as I sprinted to second base. Naturally, the first thing I did after settling in to second base was to look into the stands to find my parents, who were cheering proudly. Mission accomplished.

After the game, I was rewarded with a snoball for my heroic efforts, the ultimate treat for any Louisiana kid during the summer. Over the course of that Little League season, I think I might have registered one other hit, but it really didn't matter because just getting out there on the field again was the biggest victory of all for me. (I also came out of it with a couple of badass above-the-neckline scars, so there's that!) Still, I'll never forget that time, the terror I felt putting on a glove and swinging a bat again, and what it felt like getting that first post-injury hit.

But I still miss Sissy, in case you were wondering.

Every minute is a minute to #WINFROMWITHIN. Tell Gatorade what that means to you by creating your personal Gatorade bottle featuring a photo of your choice (if it's of you in your heyday, you must be over 13 years of age). You can also check out the bottles in retail featuring Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt and Mia Hamm Win From Within moments.

Brett Michael Dykes, aka Cajun Boy, is the Editor-in-Chief of Uproxx.com and is also a New York Times contributor. Follow him on Twitter here.