Sweet Spot

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1993. All rights reserved.

I thought I knew the feel of success.

For a dozen of my most formative years I played baseball every summer. I still thrill to the smells of fresh-mown grass and glove leather. The sharp crack of a hardball meeting a bat moves me like a shotgun blast stirs a retriever; I lurch instinctively toward the sound.

But no moment of the game was ever more satisfying than standing at the plate, 36-inch wooden club clutched in my hands, staring down a fastball and swinging just in time to connect in that solid part of the bat we called "the sweet spot." The feel of that contact, smooth and strong, and the sight of the ball arching through the sky on a long trajectory is something I will never forget. Twenty years later I still hit home runs in my dreams.

I thought I had known excitement.

As a college student I traveled to Europe one summer, my first outing overseas, and made my initial stopover in London. As the bus from the airport eased onto the city's narrow streets my heart pounded. How different everything looked and sounded and smelled -- not at all like the Idaho I had sprouted from! I felt like I'd been dropped onto a carefully designed motion picture set filled with actors speaking faultless dialects.

During the next week I walked for hours through the city and spent many evenings with friends and acquaintances in London's pubs, all the while repeating to myself over and over: "This is real. This is real. This is real."

I thought I had come home.

After long years spent chasing career ambitions in big cities, my wife and I bolted for the country. I remember standing alone at the edge of a wheat field one of the first days back and listening to the wind pushing across the plain. Whatever possessed us to leave this land? I wondered. What more could a man want than a piece of ground to stake his claim upon, some animals to raise, a crop to harvest, and a like-minded mate to share it all?

None of these things prepared me for the moment, just a few weeks ago, when my firstborn child emerged from my wife's womb, wailing and clutching at the air. Nothing in my experience prepared me for the rush of emotions that swelled my chest and the tears of joy that flowed from my eyes.

I hadn't known it, but in my son's first cries I heard a sound I had been waiting all my life to hear. And everything I'd ever done, from learning to read in grade school to pruning last year's raspberry vines, seemed directed toward that moment. Whatever family my wife and I shared alone before the baby had suddenly blossomed like a flower from a bud, surprisingly brilliant and ambrosial.

Raised on a farmstead, I was no stranger to birth. I thought I could be a calm presence during the delivery. But as the hours of my wife's labors wore on and the emergence of my child grew more imminent I felt myself rising up on my toes with anticipation. I broke into a sweat. My mouth went dry. My heart throbbed intensely.

At birth, I choked up. Couldn't say nary a word. Just looked at the babe and then my wife and then back at the babe again. Inside myself, I was standing on a chair cheering and cheering.

When the nurses eased him into my arms and I pressed his quivering body to my chest the stadium crowd roared with approval. Home runs flew out of my heart one after another after another.

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