2-1 count in the top of the first inning of a meaningless September game in a month unfortunately full of them.
The starting pitcher had a hitch at the top of his windup, more than enough of a tell for a seasoned baserunner.
Billy took off before the righty even tipped toward the plate, kicking up dirt and reaching second with a blur of choppy strides—he didn’t even need to slide.
His team lost anyway, another setback in a second half to throw on the ever-increasing heap.
Billy, though, thrilled like he always thrilled, especially on the basepaths.
He’d been the fastest kid on the block from the time he could walk. It wasn’t long before that speed was put to good use on a series of athletic fields.
He was a youth soccer phenomenon whose coach had set free with a single command: Run.
He was a wide receiver good enough to pick up a scholarship offer from Mississippi State, a basketball star with a questionable outside shot but a first step that left defenders swiping at air.
Billy shined most on the baseball diamond, a prospect with a tool for every finger on a scout’s hand. He could hit for high average and promising enough power, throw out runners from off his back foot, defend any position on the field.
And, of course, Billy could run. Not matter what else happened, he could always lean on that.
It wasn’t long before the lesson was internalized, before it was used in somewhere other than the athletic spectrum.
Fail a test, take another class. Get caught in a lie, deny. Billy could wriggle out of an argument, dance around any thorny issue. He’d been in countless relationships since he first put that sly smile to good use, but none of them lasted very long.
Call it a coping mechanism, call it whatever you want, but Billy always had the same reaction when the going got tough.
This year, though, it didn’t seem to matter how fast he sprinted.
Nobody had been able to catch him since the All-Star break, but everyone, it seemed, had passed by his team in the standings.
Billy tried doubling down on his usual five-mile afternoon jog, adding another after he returned home from the ballpark. He took to racing the clock while he made breakfast and showered, leading to plenty of runny eggs and shampoo not being fully washed out of hair.
Billy tore around stragglers on the highway with his car and cut off indecisive elderly women at the grocery store with his cart.
He was even sleeping less, trying and failing to temporarily halt his racing mind.
None of it seemed likely to matter, not with his team so far adrift of the final playoff spot and so few games remaining. The future looked equally bleak, with most of the other contenders comparatively loaded with young talent.
Billy faced spending his prime on an aging team near the bottom of the division, toiling away until even his speed started to le … there was that hitch again.
He broke for second, kicking up dirt, reaching the bag in a blur of choppy strides, sliding in well ahead of the throw.
The very next pitch, Billy caught the third baseman sneaking too far off his base. The score wasn’t likely to change much, but that didn’t matter in the moment. He ran.