This is the fourth installment of a new series where I let you my readers encourage each other by telling your stories. We are here to learn and celebrate with one another. It’s amazing how much we learn from hearing other people’s stories. This is a little unique as I’m writing this post. But you will understand in just a moment. I believe I am a better person for witnessing Erich’s story.
I am so excited to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Erich Kruger. I had the pleasure of getting to know Erich last year when I was room mom in Emily’s class. That’s right, Erich is only 9 years old. And I have a confession to make – I adore him and like him almost as much as my kids.
Erich is a twin and one of 6 kids in his family. His family is very close, has dealt with major health care issues, and as a result the Kruger children have warm, compassionate hearts.
Erich was the energy of his second grade class and had the wildest imagination. He was writing a novel and every week would entertain the class with reading a couple of chapters of his masterpiece out loud. As room mom, I was in the class a lot and soaked it up. So did his classmates who sat at the edges of their seats wanting more and more. And I had a room mom crush on a second grader.
This year Erich decided to try out for the baseball team. His first year. And Jeff chose Erich in the draft partly because he knew how much I adored him and his family.
Erich came to the first practice with his infectious grin and energy. He came to all the games exactly the same way. The only problem… Erich couldn’t hit a baseball to save his life in a game. Often Erich would just stand there and not swing. Or if he swung the bat, you could tell he wasn’t confident and missed the ball by a mile.
Jeff and Chad worked tirelessly with Erich and he started hitting the ball in practice. The problem was Erich could never translate that to a game. In all 12 regular season games, Erich never made contact with the ball. Not even a foul ball. He walked a couple of times during the season. And you should have seen how excited he was.
His dad, Hannibal, is the coach of his oldest son’s baseball team and you could tell he wanted Erich to succeed so badly. He would shout, “It’s just like we practiced at home.” Hannibal would pace back and forth every time Erich came up to bat and his mom Heather would sit next to me on the bleachers continuing to throw out praise and encouraging words every time Erich would strike out. You could feel their wishes as parents. It was palpable. I wanted it as much for them as for Erich. Our team to their credit also continued to encourage Erich and would shout encouragement to him from the dugout despite his continued struggles.
This past Thursday night was our first playoff game. Jeff and his assistant coach Chad are both insanely competitive and were so excited about our chances.
When I jumped the wall to catch the game (our house shares a wall with the baseball fields), we had gotten off to a rough start. We were down 6 to 1. But then the team rallied back. Ben was giving his teammates a pep talk in the dugout when I approached the field. I was proud of him.
Lots of singles from great teammates. Then Ben hit a ball into the outfield for a triple and drove in a couple of runs.
And then for the first time this season, a player on our team, Justin, hit a home run. Hugs from proud parents.
Now we were down just one run. We fell behind again and Justin hit a second home run. The kids went crazy and rushed the field, but we were still down 10-9 going into the bottom of the last inning.
The bottom of our order was up. Erich, who bats last because of his struggles at the plate all year, was set to bat third in the inning. The first two players struck out, which brought Erich up, down 10 – 9 with 2 outs, and no one on base.
Erich’s entire family including grandparents, aunts, and cousins were in the stands. And the stress from everyone including our team was palpable in the air. As Erich walked to home plate, Jeff, who was the 3rd base coach, stopped him and called him over for a pep talk.
As Jeff talked to Erich, one of the parents from the other team said, “That coach is telling him not to swing, in final hopes that maybe he will walk and keep the game alive.” One of our parents, said, “I don’t think that is the case. That isn’t who Jeff is.”
I could hear Jeff say to Erich, “Remember how you hit the ball in batting practice on Tuesday? Just do that. The pitcher is throwing the ball about as hard as I was throwing to you at practice. Just swing hard.” Jeff gave him the back pat and sent him on his way.
Erich got up to the plate.
Swing. Strike 1. Erich swung at a ball that was in the dirt.
Swing. Strike 2. Erich swung at a ball that was over his head.
Final pitch. Erich swung with all his might and he hit that ball! He hit it so hard that it went over the second baseman’s head into center field. Erich looked at Jeff with eyes as big as bowling balls and Chad and Jeff were going crazy and shouting, “Run!”
I was screaming. Hannibal and Heather were screaming. The kids in the dugout were screaming. Even some of the parents from the other team were clapping. The moment was surreal as Erich made it to second base and was the tying run.
The next batter came up to the plate and struck out. He had tears in his eyes and walked towards Jeff defeated. Poor little guy. It is never easy to be the final out.
I called the kids over to take a group picture. It was dark and the best I could get with no flash.
Even though the season was over, you could still feel the excitement from Erich’s hit, Justin’s 2 home runs, and great pitching by Ben, Luke, and Zach. Jeff told me later that after Erich got his hit, it didn’t matter after that whether we won or lost.
Every game, the coaches give a game ball to one of the kids who showed improvement, sportsmanship, or made a tremendous play. And Jeff handed the ball to Erich. Erich smiled and said, “Thank you. But this ball belongs to Justin. He hit 2 home runs!” Erich handed the ball to Justin who was beaming.
I took some team pictures, and Jeff came over and told me about Erich giving the ball to Justin. Tears filled my eyes and I looked over to Erich who was reeling from the experience. Parents were all gathered by their kids. Some were giving hugs of comfort to those players who were a little bummed. Justin’s parents were touched at Erich’s gift. And Erich’s family acted as if the team had won the World Series. Hugs, high fives, and high pitched squeals all around.
My only regret was that it was dark and I didn’t have enough light to get pictures of it all. But I will never forget it.
I will never forget Erich’s hard work.
I will never forget Erich’s reaction to hitting the ball.
I will never forget the cheers from the bleachers and dugouts when Erich hit that ball.
I will never forget Erich giving the game ball to Justin.
I will never forget tucking Ben into bed that night and him saying, “Mom. That was the best season ever.”
Erich, you have a bright future ahead of you. You are my MVP!
Can you now see why I had a room mom crush?
Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Blessings sweet friends – Jenny
I am currently accepting submissions for Sunday Stories. Please limit your posts to approximately 800 words and include at least one picture. Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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