|Coaches, umpires and parents surround injured Tanner,|
seeking to determine the extent of his injury.
As the game unfolded, it seemed to be following one of those schmaltzy, predictable Hollywood scripts – kind of like “Bad News Bears” or “The Mighty Ducks.” Only this was real life in real time, being witnessed firsthand by parents and grandparents and friends.
In the top of the first inning of a preliminary game in the 7-and-under classification of the Rick Honeycutt World Series in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., Tanner is playing the pitcher position for the Owls. (At this level, adults do the actual pitching.) Diving for a looping pop fly to his left, Tanner catches the ball, then gets up and throws the ball to third base, doubling up the runner who had left the base. He grimaces in pain, but seems to shake it off.
The opposing team, the Bats (you know they have to be good hitters, right?), proceeds to score four times, taking an early 4-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Tanner bats second, hits a single, then runs to first base. Reaching the base, however, the young fellow doubles over in pain. His left hip is hurting badly, and trying to run seems to have aggravated the injury.
After about 10 minutes of trying to comfort Tanner, it’s obvious he needs to go to the dugout and get off his feet. The umpire allows a pinch-runner, and Tanner is carried off the field by one of the coaches. The problem is the Owls are already short two players and removing Tanner from the game would necessitate a forfeit.
Perhaps inspired by their hobbled comrade, the Owls rally for five runs and take a 5-4 lead heading into the second inning. Tanner and Colt, the catcher, swap positions to enable Tanner to simply stand behind the batters and remain in the game. His parents, feeling it wouldn’t do further harm, allowed their son to continue playing.
After the Bats go scoreless in the top of the inning, the Owls score the youth league maximum seven runs in the bottom of the second, building their lead to 12-4. Tanner does bat and hits the ball, but being unable to run out the play, is thrown out at first. No problem, right? The Owls are up by eight and seem in command.
The Bats, however, have other ideas. They score seven runs of their own in the top of the third, tightening the score to 12-11, and the Owls go three up, three down, failing to score in their half of the inning. Tanner doesn’t have to go to the plate this time around.
In the top of the fourth the Bats, true to their nickname, score seven runs and take a seemingly commanding lead, 18-12, with just the last half of the fourth to go as the 60-minute clock is winding down.
Awakening from their mid-game snooze, the Owls get their own bats into action and start whittling away at the Bats’ lead. Five Owls cross the plate, closing the score to 18-17, and another single sends the tying run home.
|Once again Tanner is carried|
off the field, this time in victory.
The score is tied, 18-18, with one out, a runner on third base, and the batter coming up is…Tanner. Gamely taking practice swings, he shrugs off the pain and smacks the ball into the outfield. Determined, Tanner shuffles to first base ahead of the throw, but it doesn’t matter – the Owls’ 19th and winning run has already crossed home plate.
Fans erupt with cheers on both sidelines, applauding the courage and perseverance of little Tanner. Parents add some proud tears. A coach carries him off the field, this time with the thrill of victory. The agony is gone, at least momentarily.
If this had been a movie script, chances are it would have been immediately tossed into the “Not a Chance” circular file. But the story is true, proving sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Not to over-spiritualize, but this seems a great metaphor for the apostle Paul’s declaration, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Young Tanner played through his pain and proved to be a very unlikely hero. His teammates, the Owls, overcame adversity of their own after losing a big lead and then trailing by six runs with just one at-bat remaining. They all forgot what was behind and pressed on toward the goal to win.