Two schools with storied baseball programs that made headlines every day, they had the bitterest rivalry of all time. Northside wore the green and white with the dedication shown most often to faith in the church. Southside wore the red and blue with a fervor that would put any team in the nation to shame. For all their differences, the schools had one thing in common. They each hated the other. On a good day there were slashed tires at the local bar. On a bad day there were beatings for wearing the wrong colored jersey.
It had been a long and hard best-of-seven series, rife with bad temperament and worse altercations. There were two in the hospital and cities in disarray over school spirit gone bad. The pre-game talk was of warriors and champions. There was no room for error in this competition. The winner commanded respect and rule of the state. Emotions ran high in the bleachers, and insults were spit from angry mouths.
The game progressed, each team scoring in good fashion. It tied up in the third, and then Southside took the lead with a controversial play at home plate. Play was suspended while angry Northside fans threw debris onto the field. A pushing match in the fourth row came to blows and two worked up fans were escorted from the stadium. Their vacant seats left a Northside senior named Johnny glaring at a Southside junior named Adam. The two had been in each other’s faces at the local bar last week over next to nothing. This game was ready to set them over the edge. There was more glaring and downright trash talking when Northside scored the tying run.
Now the scene was set. The ninth inning had finally arrived in a tie game with everything on the line. Scholarships and major-league contracts hung in the air thick with possibility. In every seat there were bargains with God. “If we can just win this game, I will never again….”
Northside’s shortstop was now up to bat. He crouched down into his stance and watched as a ball flew past him and landed in the catcher’s glove with a dull thump. Signs were given from the third-base coach and the runner at first lead of a little; then a little more. Seconds later a spot-on throw had him out trying to steal second base. Bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, nobody left on base. Adam grinned meanly at Johnny and cheered. Southside had all the swagger and momentum going their way.
Nothside’s final prayer stepped up to bat. Three balls and two strikes later he wiped his brow. It was now or never. The next pitch, a fastball, came right over the plate and cracked into the bat with astounding speed. The ball flew, and when the stadium could no longer hold the ball, it fell on the other side. The winning home run that every player dreamed of had just happened. The player raced past first base and began to trot through second when the unimaginable happened. As he stepped on the bag his ankle gave out and he lay sprawled in the dirt, unable to continue.
Silence hung in the air as the implications of this event rippled through the crowd. If Northside’s player did not cross home plate, then Southside would win the championship. There was a brief moment of indecision when movement took over the field. The Southside pitcher slowly walked towards second base and paused, looking down at the injured Northside player. He lay in the dirt, wincing in pain. Nobody could ever have expected what came next.
The Southside pitcher slowly put down his glove and leaned into the injured player. He slipped his arms around his shoulders and dragged him to his feet. When he looked up, his Southside teammates were walking towards him with open arms. They collectively picked up the injured player and began to walk him around the bases. They gingerly lowered him onto third base and then slowly marched towards home plate. You could hear hardly a whisper when they crossed home plate, touching the injured player’s feet to the base with care. In that moment, the Southside players handed the Northside player off to his team, and the game was won.
At first there was only silence as stunned spectators watched the scene unfold. Never before had this state seen such an act of compassion between the two schools. A soft, single clap started from the bleachers that grew as fans got to their feet. Adam looked over at Johnny and gave a polite nod. The emotion on the field had encompassed the entire stadium. Strangers with no love lost before looked at each other with suspicious kindness.
Now times were not always so good, and of course there were some setbacks, but the climate had definitely changed. Thanks to the sportsman’s hearts in those Southside players on a Saturday afternoon, sports became just sports and neighbors became friends. An example was set and a state was healed.