The batter ahead of him had just weakly grounded out to the pitcher. Cue the music. Cue the weight knocked off his bat. Cue the tap of of the barrel against his cleats. Cue the terror of another time in the batters box against a man possessed and a crowd on the verge of eruption. Cue the grass turning to dirt around home. Cue game time.
It's the bottom of the eighth and his team is losing, five to nothing with Rich Hill on the mound for his final frame in a masterful evening. Behind him, the half-inning previous, is two errors in one inning that opened the game up. Two easy plays botched that cost his new-old teammates a chance at climbing back into a one-run game. Further behind that, maybe even worse, is two feeble strike outs. A man outmatched upon a stage he hasn't felt the lights of for quite some time. Yet, there is much more behind him than that.
Behind him and before the blow up in the top of the eighth, Taijuan Walker, his friend and long-time teammate, had thrown an absolute gem. He came out of the dugout in the top of the first and just blitzed 96 mph fastballs while painting the corners. He was untouchable. The curve stayed low, and the fastball flashed the pure heat the twenty-three year old has become known for. Tai didn't allow a three ball count until Stephen Vogt in the seventh, who proceeded to hit a solo home run off the next offering. Eventually, after loading the bases from two errors and an intentional walk, down 2-0, Tai would leave the game with one out in the seventh. Yet, standing in the batters box, facing Rich Hill, he thought even further back.
To Saturday, when he learned he was going back to the Major Leagues to play baseball with teammates new and old. To wear the colors of the only professional organization he had ever been apart of. To see those Safeco lights. The dream, realized, yet still fully unrealized in its reality. In Baseball there is rarely time to admire just how far you've gone. No, that was a treat reserved for the bashers, for the big boy bombs. He would never have that kind of time. If he wanted to play in The Show, his feet couldn't stop moving.
Chris Taylor was drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 Amateur Draft. He was a glove, and really not much else back then. He was filler, if he read the reports correctly. But that filler rose and rose. You see, Chris Taylor just stuck. The glove showed true talent and somehow he found a way to hit his way up every level. Sure, he knew his game would never be power, but he could square a ball-up and find a gap. He's swung a bat to ball a thousand thousand times in his life, it wasn't a skill he fully lacked. It wasn't like the glove was given to him, either.
There was an all-dirt diamond he'd visit when he was twelve. The Virginia summers could turn that patch of dirt into a desert, or an ocean. It didn't drain well, there were rocks and dips and cracks. He knew where they kept the rakes in the shed behind home plate. He and his parents, whichever could find time off work that night after school, would drive the twenty, tired minutes out to the field, take a rake, and prepare the working space. As a kid, Chris always left some of the rocks. He liked the challenge.
And that is where Chris' mind went when he stepped into the batters box against Rich Hill in the bottom of the eighth in a game that was all but lost. Thanks to him, he reminded himself, again. The two errors and the two strike outs were replaced by that dirt field in Virginia Beach and how his mother's hair, tied up in a cap, looked when she hit him another grounder. How his father barked about bending the knees, not the waist, to get down on a tricky hop. How the blood in his mouth tasted when the ball would find one of the rocks he left and pop him in the face. How simple the game was. How far he had come from that patch of dirt to the pristine palace before him now.
Just as he did back when he was twelve, Chris raked the dirt with his cleat. His mind sharpened now on the unsolvable puzzle standing sixty feet away from him. The offering was left up, outer-middle edge of the plate. Chris, as he had all those times rising through the levels, swung, purely out of instinct. The ball, caught somewhere in the air, maybe upon a fortunate, loving breeze from Virginia Beach, landed softly onto the center field grass. He had reached base. He had risen, again.
As he touched first, his mind flashed back to that field when he was twelve. In 2003, thirteen years ago, Chris Taylor was just a kid on a dirt field in Virginia Beach. Everything had changed, except nothing really had. It was still baseball. It was still ground balls and his parents' words in his ears. For Chris, and all those around him in that clubhouse, the game had never really left that field when they were twelve. If anything, they were all just hoping to find that patch of dirt again this whole time. That's what those thirteen years had really been. Between then and now, that hot summer on that field, this was the first time his team had been in first place on May 23rd.
They'd just keep rising, too.