[If you’re not into winter, what’s better than thinking about summer in the wintertime? Oh, and the only Mormony thing about this is that most of the players were -but not, I am grateful to say, the coach.]
We always want what’s out of reach.
In junior high school, I was a complete athletic loser (and I believe I still own that title today). No competence at anything whatsoever, except one thing, which is irrelevant to the present topic. But I *wanted* to be something.
Baseball, in that era, was the sport. Everything else in the way of sports was secondary in my neck of the woods. I took up the challenge to be a baseball player. I wanted to hit the long-ball of course. So, during summers, and most of the rest of the year too, it would be difficult to find me wandering around without my baseball bat. I used it to hit everything from real baseballs to stones I picked up in the street.
Our neighborhood bordered on the rural in the west, the suburban on the east. But I would hit stones, balls, anything semi-round of reasonable size in any direction whatsoever. How many windows I broke, I just don’t know. I’m guessing though that in the afterlife I will have to face angry neighbors.
I got good at swinging a bat. I aimed for the fences every time. I could smash a baseball, when I could find one, a very long way. When 8th grade gym class began in the fall, we would walk to a nearby field to play. It was pretty informal, and more or less a humor fest for the gym teacher (who shall have his own post at some point) who got a kick out of heckling the weak and sickly among us, a category I desperately wanted to break out of.
I was eager to demonstrate my prowess with a bat. We had no equipment, unless you brought your own mitt from home and I did not have one, so there you go. But we did have bats and balls.
As it turned out, you were lucky because of time constraints, to get one at bat during the “class.” Finally it was my turn. After the first twenty seconds of this debacle, I realized the fatal flaw in my training plan.
I could not hit a pitch.
It didn’t cross my mind that hitting was more than having a potentially powerful swing. You actually had to defeat another kid who was throwing the ball at you. And they tried to trick you. I was the subject of the usual hilarity both from “coach” and classmates.
We played “softball” because it was deemed safer than baseball. The ball was bigger. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where the notion of “soft” came from. Anyway, after my dismal performance, the next kid managed to let go of the bat after a mighty cut which slammed the unprotected catcher right between the eyes. Blood was everywhere, and we were on our way back to the school. We still never got equipment.
My hate-love of baseball had begun. No matter what I did, I never could get the hang of hitting a pitch. And since I never practiced the boring art of fielding (which usually involved the ball bouncing at just the right angle to hit me in the chin anyway) I was pretty much a non asset on the playing field. A few years later I was facing a friend on the pitcher’s mound. He could pitch well and struck me out easily. But after that game we did some fielding practice and this was where I could shine. Everyone got out there and I tossed up the ball and hit it, 100% effort. The first time, the ball went so far over their heads they actually looked dumbfounded. I was in my (very narrow) element. Everyone backed up, but this time I really connected. Over their heads again. I had gained a tiny margin of respect. It was to be the only one I would ever have in the game. I had stolen a very tiny bit of Mickey Mantles’ fame for my own. It was not enough, it was not really meaningful, but it was something. Such was my only success in the game. This also marked the beginning of my attraction to the game of football – on TV.