It happened in the bottom of the fifth inning, when the wheels had begun to run off for the team from Durham. The Tar Heels already had an eight-run lead and had blown the game wide open, scoring five runs in the fifth inning, when Justice Thompson stepped to the plate. There were two runners in scoring position, although the bases themselves would soon be rendered inconsequential. A 3-1 pitch cruised down the center of the plate, and Thompson chose violence.
I’ve never hit a home run. The closest I’ve ever come was smacking golf balls into low-earth orbit with an old aluminum bat that was taking up space in my parents’ garage. That’s a far cry from hitting live pitching, at any level, I know. I’ve written on this blog before about my baseball woes, and how I enjoyed the game far more than I had any right to with my skillset, so I’m sure it’s unsurprising to learn that I never managed to yank one out of the park. I have been around long enough, though, to learn that there’s a particular sound belonging only to those moments when an aluminum bat makes solid contact with a smaller object; a noise that exists nowhere except right in that moment that physics steps in to teach the ball something new and exciting about momentum.
That sharp ping, the beautiful melody sung by a baseball (or a golf ball, as the case may be) bidding gravity a temporary adieu on its way out of the park was a fixture of my childhood. I used to play on the hill down the first-base line in the old Boshamer, ears pricked up to catch any contact, then whirling around to try and track the ball in the air. Maybe it was a foul ball, headed to us on the hill, which was exciting. Maybe it was on its way out of the park, which was electrifying.
When a batter really gets a hold of one, you can tell. Everyone can tell. The pitcher probably knew it when the ball left his hand; a pitch that hangs over the plate like that doesn’t really happen on purpose. The runner on second knew it as well, as he trotted back to the base to tag up (probably out of habit more than anything else). The crowd knew it; you could tell from the swell of cheers that began as soon as the ball left Thompson’s bat. Justice Thompson certainly knew it, taking a leisurely stroll out of the batter’s box and taking in what he had wrought before a dismissive bat flip to begin his round trip. A no-doubt homer is not a subtle thing, but it’s a work of art, and art ought to be appreciated.
The Heels hit five homers in total in Monday night’s 21-8 destruction of the rival Blue Devils. Three of them came in the fifth inning, with Thompson’s aforementioned brilliance sandwiched between two homers off the red-hot bat of Brett Centracchio, the second being recorded as the longest homer UNC’s ever recorded (since 2015, when they started using Trackman). They’re now 2nd in the ACC and 16th in the country in home runs hit, even during a season where a new coach and a new roster are figuring each other out.
An unexpected off week means longer to celebrate the series win over the team from Durham. It’s a good day to be a Tar Heel, and as always, we all know exactly where Duke can go.