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11/22/08 3:17 AM EST
Dreams fulfilled 'Under the Lights'
Fans get to live out on field fantasy at historic Dodger Stadium
By Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Standing at home plate, I didn't know what to think. My knees were a little wobbly, my palms were sweaty and I was so nervous I couldn't allow what was happening to properly sink in. But I took a deep breath and realized that I wasn't dreaming. I really was about to swing a bat at home plate at Dodger Stadium, the ballpark I had spent so many nights cheering for my beloved Dodgers as a child. I really was like a child again as I took my first swing on the first pitch I saw from the batting practice pitcher. But it was nothing like the ball I had hit in my dream the night before. The ball in my dream sailed deep over the left-field fence for a home run, but the ball I hit in reality barely rolled to third base. The only thing I could do was laugh. At least I'd hit the ball and it was the perfect swinging bunt. I thought to myself, "Hey, Juan Pierre easily would have made it to first on that hit." The weak first hit actually eased my nerves. I was more afraid of swinging and missing than anything else. I hadn't hit against live pitching much since high school when I played as a freshman but wasn't even good enough to play junior varsity. I connected with two more ground balls on the next two pitches I saw before I swung at a high pitch and popped it straight up into the net. I hit a few more groundballs before I was told that I had just two more pitches to hit. It was then I realized that not only had I not hit it out of the park like my dream the night before, I hadn't even hit a fly ball out of the infield. So I dug in and was more focused than ever. And sure enough, I hit a screamer to right field that easily would have been a single. I was satisfied even though I fouled back my last pitch. But I was still determined to square up on one ball and hit it hard into left field so I went to the indoor batting cages to work on my swing. After all, it worked for Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, right? He famously hit balls of a tee in the batting cages before hitting his historic home run to lead to the Dodgers to the Game 1 win. And it seemed to work for me as well. I was crushing the ball in the batting cage. The pitcher asked me if I played college baseball. I didn't think he was serious but he told me I had some real power and could hit a home run if I hit a ball just right. It was the confidence booster that I needed. I thought maybe I really could hit a home run at Dodger Stadium. So I went back to home plate for one last try. But of course, it didn't work out like I had planned. I was hitting the ball much harder than my first attempt but it was obvious that I wasn't going to come anywhere close to hitting a home run. My dream the night before and the batting cage pitcher had gotten my hopes up. But it was worth the try. As I walked back from home plate I took the time to look around the field that I was just hitting on. I took in the beauty and splendor of the ballpark and realized I didn't need to hit the ball far for it to be a memorable night. It was all right that I hit a few ground balls, a few shallow fly balls and a couple of hard hit line drives. It was the experience of hitting at Dodger Stadium that really mattered, and because of that it made for a great night where I got to live out one of my biggest childhood dreams.
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.