He stopped and stared, just a moment or two, as the ball began its majestic flight toward history. There was no intention of showing anyone up; he just wanted to soak in the moment, breathing the deep sigh of relief that came with the knowledge the long chase was over, perhaps still wondering why it had to be this difficult.
He had endured the taunts of opposing fans, the lukewarm support from his own teammates and the endless questions about his genuineness. Yet he persevered, pushing through uncertainty and adversity, and with one mighty swing he made a statement Saturday that we will not soon forget: The all-time home run record will soon be his.
Though the game of baseball has always come easy to him, handling the spotlight and the scrutiny of the baseball world has been decidedly less so. Oh, he has tried in recent years to soften his image with fans and media alike, granting interviews with semi-regularity and answering critical questions in as forthright a manner as possible, but nothing has seemed to work. His friendly smiles are dismissed as superficial covers for the massive narcissism that lives underneath, and even the kindest of his words are dissected by his detractors, looking for inconsistencies and justifications for their hatred.
Through it all, he has tried to internalize his struggle for acceptance, resisting the temptation to lash out at the many media outlets who would defame him. It would have been easy for a man who has been targeted as he has to rise up in defiance, but he chose instead to channel his emotions into the batter’s box. On Saturday, those efforts were rewarded.
Twenty-nine consecutive times he had come to the plate, prior to his first at-bat Saturday, and twenty-nine straight times he had departed homerless. It was obvious he was gripping the bat a little too tightly in anticipation of the milestone moment, and with every forced swing seemingly determined to deposit the ball into the ocean on the opposite coast, he gripped it even harder.
With tens of thousands standing with the delivery of every pitch, index fingers hovering atop their digital cameras; and countless others watching at home, thumbs hovering over their DVR’s rewind button; he was beginning to show signs of crumbling beneath the pressure. It would take an almost superhuman degree of focus to block out the distractions, to ignore the gravity of the moment, and to let his God-given baseball instincts take over at the moment of truth. But that’s what he was facing.
Finally, when the outside world was whittled away, and with his vision narrowed to the mere 60 feet, six inches that separated him from his enemy, he exploded. The familiar, short, compact swing was back, propelling the bat head through the strike zone with an alarming velocity, and sending the soon-to-be-historic baseball screaming toward a sea of fans beyond the outfield wall.
A moment frozen in time, as the record was now his.
Alex Rodriguez was now the fastest player in the history of Major League Baseball to hit his 500thcareer home run. And a nation was free to celebrate. Naturally.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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