Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Worst of The Best

Life was turmoil.

I was the least coordinated and least athletic kid who ever played Little League baseball. I made the team, I suspect, because some other kid's dad was offered a raise and a promotion which necessitated moving to another state. Being one left-handed kid short, whatever rightie got stuck with the unenviable task of playing first base while being right handed would likely have to think his way through the play whenever he had to throw to third base.

I empathize. I had to play third. Playing third while under the influence of Southpaw should be a crime in all fifty states. That extra half-turn meant Albert had just time to get to first. Worse, having to think one's way through throwing a ball usually had the consequence of throwing it so wildly that parents would occasionally duck and umpires would give me very stern looks.

My teammates all seemed self-confident, if not ready for tryouts with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I envied them. Sometimes it seemed like I was the only kid who felt outnumbered when at bat. Don't get me wrong. I loved playing the game. But there were times when I'd be at bat, noticing teammates on base with two outs and feeling the butterflies. in my stomach. That's usually when the pitcher would go into his windup and the entire world would disappear except for the baseball. And in that one magnificent moment, with the ball hanging in the air for a compartmented eternity I swear I could count every stitch on that baseball. 

That reverie would then be broken by a cracking sound -I was usually completely unaware that I had swung and made contact with the ball. The moment was sometimes capped off with a good friend admonishing me from the dugout to "RUN, stupid!!" and me jogging my mounds of baby fat around two-hundred forty feet of baseline lovingly donated by some company looking for a tax write off.

The first time I ever played baseball, I noticed that all of the right-handed batters who didn't get called out went to first base. Being a rationally thinking kid, or so I thought, being left-handed must mean that I needed to run to third. I was perhaps halfway there before I heard my teammates and the line coach frantically telling me to go to first. I can still see, in my mind's eye, the look of absolute confusion on the opposing pitcher's face as I short-cutted across the pitcher's mound en route to being called out by an umpire who looked for all the world like he wanted to retire and escape this type of nonsense.

One learns a lot about baseball simply by playing it. For instance, I learned that daydreaming and playing first base is incompatible. One lovely June Saturday afternoon I was feeling on top of the world; school was out, I was playing baseball, and the only concerns I had in the world were cleaning my room, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. Granted, to a kid that's probably the adult equivalent of writing contracts for a major corporation or selling the company's product to a major wholesaler. For me, life couldn't get any better. I hadn't missed Scooby Doo that morning, I got the lawn mowed and out of the way, and I was already thinking of ways to blow my allowance (that '55 Chevy drag race car model kit is molded in yellow, so I should probably buy that one. Then the money I save on spray paint could go toward three or even four bottles of black paint for the chassis, and...) While I was ruminating about those kinds of things, in addition to worrying about whether or not I'd have enough money left over for candy bars and Coca-Cola, my left foot was resting comfortably on the first base bag. Staring slack jawed into my glove and marveling about how the day couldn't possibly get any better, my reverie was again broken by the crack of an opposing player at bat. The ball appeared in my glove before I could shake the self-debate between "Which is better: Hershey's or Nestle's?" from my mind. As if to put an exclamation mark on the moment, the ump standing near me yelled "YOU'RE OUT! at a very disgusted batter.

To this day, I have no idea how that ball found my glove. I was probably from a supportive teammate who wanted to win in spite of my cognitive magic carpet ride, but I occasionally wonder if it was a million-to-one short fly ball which happened to find just the right trajectory.

My apologies to all of my former teammates. I hope adult life has found you well and vice-versa. And if your church or business needs a substitute first baseman, you know where to find me.

I'll be at the concession stand where it's safe.

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