You’ve been asked to sit in on a conference of world leaders.
Barack Obama, David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu and Xi Jinping are all sitting around a cluttered table littered with shuffled papers and empty coffee cups, trying to fix the ills of our modern world.
Suddenly, while mopping his brow, Obama is pulled from from the conference room and replaced by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack confidently strides to his spot at the table and calmly dots the remaining Is and crosses the last few Ts of a deal that Obama spent the last 36 hours crafting.
Now, take a breath, relax and realize that this will never, ever actually happen.
But, similar situations take place daily on softball diamonds all over the country this time of year.
At any point in a softball game, the pitcher could be yanked for a fresher and stronger arm from the bullpen.
It’s a pragmatic strategy, obviously; if the player you’ve got is scuffling or on the verge of an exhaustion-induced coma, they need to be taken out.
But coming out of the bullpen is no easy task.
One mostly sits around twiddling thumbs, yelling in-game chants in unison with teammates and eating sunflower seeds, hoping that if they do enter the game, it’s not to bail out a Titanic-like shipwreck on the diamond.
“You never know when you’re going to go in so you always have to be five-pitch ready at any second,” the softball pitching staff said via email. “There is less time to prepare because you don’t know when you’re going to be called into a game. The goal is just to stay loose in the bullpen and prepare yourself mentally for entering the game.”
There are many situations where a reliever could come out of the bullpen, and not all are good.
Best-case scenario: The game is out of reach and the stress level is nil. Worst case? The opposing cleanup hitter at the plate with bases loaded.
However, the job remains the same.
“As a relief pitcher, you’re having to face different situations,” the staff said. “You can come in with runners on or outs already on the board. You just try to adjust to those situations as best you can.”
Close games are, understandably, more nerve-wracking.
There is no margin for error when you come into the game in the seventh inning, up by only one run.
Finishing the game, whether by a particularly long stint of relief or just “Mariano Rivera-ing” it for one or two outs out can be much more stressful that having the luxury of starting.
“In close games, the pressure is all on you,” the staff said. “You can’t give up hits or walks, you try to be perfect . . . It is more difficult to finish the game than to start. As coach [Kincaid, softball’s head coach] says, those last three outs are the hardest outs to get.”
The pitching staff, as a whole, has been very efficient this year, sporting an earned run average of more than a full run lower than their opponents.
The staff has helped propelled the team to a 27-16 record so far in the season.