One Small Step



photo-Ashwin Rao
photo-Ashwin Rao



You won’t read this story in the box score. It was, in the grand scheme of things, a minor league game in the Carolina League, that night the Mavericks beat the Flyers. Johnny was the Mavericks pitcher with the flashy stuff. Manny was the catcher, his best friend and battery mate. The big game of July 20, 1969, was the first men landing on the moon.

Johnny “Flash” Gordon was as excited as everyone else. In fact, he had discussed changing his nickname to Apollo just for the occasion. After all, he wore number 11.

“Flash, you are crazy,” Manny laughed. “That sounds like a porn star!”

“Why not? Okay, okay, how about Armstrong?”

“Forget it.” Manny said. “Just play the game.”

It was a hot summer night for a ball game. The crowd was buzzing over the moon landing. Johnny glanced briefly at the bleachers, where the girls were thick as mosquitos. Then, he forgot everything.

That night, Johnny Gordon had the right stuff. Sometimes, the universe conspires in a perfect balance. Years later, when he was coaching, he would try to explain it as Zen concentration. It was as good an explanation as any.

Three up, three down. Three up, three down. The scoreboard was a string of zeros.

By the sixth inning, the joking in the dugout fell silent. His teammates left him alone on the bench, the Latin players whispering “Sagrada,” sacred. Only Manny stayed beside him, real and solid.

It was quite a pitchers’ duel. The other guy was good, too. But the Mavericks had managed to eke out a run, on a sacrifice fly and an error when Johnny took the mound for the ninth inning.

He went into his windup as the crowd went wild. The loudspeakers blared, “One small step for man!” as the ball slipped out of his hand.

The crack of the bat, a solid hit! Johnny turned to watch the perfect parabola, going, going, gone–like a rocket to the moon.

The Mavericks finally won 2-1 in the 11th inning. Later, he would say all the right things. But he had no words for the ball in flight, the moon between his fingers.

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