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Couch Shorts: Home (Plate) away from Home (Plate): The Conor Gillaspie Dream

The little boy grabs his bat and strolls up to the plate — which could be a Frisbee or a piece of wood, or maybe it’s just a bare spot in the grass where the doghouse used to be (he misses Buster, but that dog loved UPS trucks more than anything, dammit). The boy has a determined look on his face, the evolution from “I think I can” to “I got this,” a champion with the entire fan base resting on his shoulders.

The crowd at today’s game is massive, probably 340,000, maybe more. His sister is in the front row, the Sandbox Seats, with her seven Barbies, two of them still sporting the buzz cut he gave them on Tuesday. He notices them out of the corner of his eye, but he’s in the zone, with zero time to oblige their cheers — and the same goes for the other 339,999 envious fans.

He adjusts his sleeves by pulling on the shirt where the shoulder meets the neck — something he saw John Cangelosi do once — and then he re-adjusts his batting gloves, fiddling with the Velcro to get the straps to align just…ah, perfect.

He steps with his right leg into the batter’s box, his left leg flexed and planted just outside the imaginary line. He arches his back and rolls his hips. Eight years old is tough, I tell ya’, so it’s important to make sure you’re limber and ready for the left-handed fire-baller who has 80 saves on the season.

Then, he brings his left leg into the box.

He whirls the bat several times in a counterclockwise windmill with his left hand, while using his right to signal to the umpire — a fictitious Joe West, whom the boy had several issues with in the past month — that he needs time. Fictitious Joe West isn’t happy about it, speed of the game and all, but he grants it to the boy.

He spits, and digs in, slowly moving his right hand from the stop-sign position extended toward the umpire to the handle of the bat. With confident precision, he raises both hands to just below the back shoulder, flapping his right elbow to stay relaxed, calm.

He’s ready to hit.

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From there, a broadcaster — the great Vin Scully — comes on the air to call the action.

Two on, two out, here in the ninth inning, the Dodgers and the Thundercats (one of the new expansion teams) in a scoreless battle, the best closer in the game — maybe the universe and the history of baseball — on the mound, looking to keep things in order. At the plate, a young man who needs no introduction, he’s something special — just did the high dive at the pool, loves go-carting, you name it. He’s an absolute joy to watch play this game.

Joe West signals play ball and here you have it, sports fans, what could be a moment for the history books — a beautiful day at the ballpark — the crowd on the edge of their seats.

OK, here we go…

The pitcher comes set…and delivers, the swing and — off the bat — a deep drive to right field, this could be…to the wall…still going…and going…it’s outta here! A three-run blast into the upper deck, a no-doubter — my, oh my! — Mondesi, in right field, didn’t even turn around.

A moon shot off the bat, and the fans can’t believe it.

The crowd goes…silent.

The little boy rounds the bases, his footsteps echoing among the dead silence. He could see the defeat on the fans’ faces. Some tried to boo, but their efforts were cut short by a 162-game flashback that ended in the anguish of reality. Suddenly, they had to go to work tomorrow. There was school. There were trains to catch and celebrations to cancel. That project due next week was getting closer with each second the boy and his fictitious teammates continued to celebrate near home plate — the other team’s home plate.

Not usually part of the dream, right? One of the greatest moments in baseball — the game-winning home run — that’s played out across countless fields and backyards, from sandlots to the playground, normally is capped off with the crowd going wild — the announcer confirming the chaotic beauty.

It’s the grand finale, when the hero is hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates and paraded around the park in front of the adoring crowd — we were there, man! The away team is left to somberly mope off the field, off to the visitor’s clubhouse and out of our city, our minds, and our turf!

Rarely is the dream sequence flipped, though, where it’s the home team doing the moping. It’s almost too much reality — a scenario where the villain wins the day? The away team? No way, no thank you.

Yet, the boy had it on his schedule: Today was an away game. No complaints, he thought, that’s just part of baseball — 81 at home, and 81 on the road.

The end result didn’t change — if anything, it felt sweeter. He broke the game wide open with one swing of the bat, his legacy created, baseball cards would soon carry his image, his name, joining the Topps collection scattered underneath his bead. The air of defeat spread across the stadium like a gray cloud — it was the first time he used the phrase “loud silence” — and he didn’t mind, at all, not one bit. The victory parades that will follow this moment, the President’s greeting at the airport, all the Snickers bars he wanted…this was still the dream.

But he couldn’t get too wrapped up in all the theatrics: he just so happened to be the team’s best closer, and would be needed in the bottom of the ninth.

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