The Thick Connection: Baseball and Blood

By Jackson Barry

Championship game! Stands packed; 452 fans yelling at umpires and players. I gather the team in the dugout, screaming above the noise at the stadium: “Everyone doubted us. We weren’t supposed to beat the 2 seed, but we did. We are the 5 seed that can!” 

They roar in agreement, feeding off our fans. 

Two months ago, we were as far away from the championship as a little league team trying to beat the New York Yankees. It appeared we would not even make the playoffs when I stepped into the box in the final inning against our rival. It was my first time as a starter after being called up to varsity. My team was down 1. Nerves flew into my body. I tried to calm myself. I freeze framed a moment in Cuba. 

Nine months ago, two of my teammates and I traveled to Havana to meet a baseball team that we will host later in the year. Our first day on the field, Cien, one of the Cuban players, spoke to me in Spanish. “¿Estás nervioso? Necesitas relajar y necesitas divertirse. Solo juega pelota.”

Are you nervous? Relax and have fun. Just play ball.”

I let these words guide me in the batters’ box. I grip the bat and swing. “Bang!” I hit a ball up the middle and reach first base.

I am the youngest of four and bring something from each sibling to the sport. Brittany, one of my older sisters, is the optimist. My glass-half-full perspective grows into a natural part of my life from watching her. She is deaf. I have used sign language to communicate with her. So often, people predict she can’t accomplish her goals, however, she always proves the doubters wrong. When her weak left arm prevented her from skiing, she learned to snowboard, despite the disbelief of her first instructor.

With the influences of Brittany, I lead off first and take off for second, sliding in safely. On second, I channel my other older sister, Shaya. I thrive on competition. I developed this quality when I taught her how to play basketball when I was in 4th grade and she was in 7th. After only a few lessons in shooting, dribbling, and defense, she took what I taught her and competed against me like a championship was on the line. The next pitch, the catcher dropped the ball, and my competitiveness propelled me to take third.

On third, my roots and love of baseball are with me. The sport runs through my blood. At seven, I followed my brother Zach to his high school practices, witnessing Zach as captain. There, I would field ground balls and hang out with the older guys. One day, standing at shortstop during batting practice, everyone tells me to move farther away so I wouldn’t get hurt. I resist. A hot shot is hit directly at me, and I pick it clean. All the high school players applaud. Now, I refuse to lose and score the go-ahead run.

Being the youngest and newest guy on my team, I looked up to the older guys as if they were major league players themselves. Being the youngest in the family, I also knew when and how to exert myself. Initially, I was just another soldier following orders, but with their support, I outgrew that role. It was in the championship game in the classic underdog story when I materialized as the leader. I first led by example rather than giving pep talks. With our final at-bat coming up and down 1 to the best team in the league, we looked defeated. My teammates had lost belief and they needed a leader more than ever, and I stepped into the role. We became the first 5 seed in our league’s history to win the championship. We reached that place with my constant voice of possibility. 

Jackson Barry, a graduate of Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, will begin his

freshman year at UCLA next week.