Baseball. America’s pastime. Endless opportunities for me to embarrass myself.
I did not have a long career on the diamond. I played until I was twelve years-old (skipping a season when I was eleven because of an accident). But, my first season in what is called “Bronco” league baseball was a memorable one.
I can remember pulling up to the baseball field for the first game.
The late, hot afternoon June sun drying out the grass along with the wind blowing infield dirt in circles. The ting of baseballs being hit in the batting cages echoed. Cheers from over zealous parents came intermittently as did the laughter of the little brothers and sisters running to the concessions stand to buy gummy worms for 5¢ a piece.
It’s amazing that I can look back on this with fondness.
I played for the Pirates. Our uniform consisted of a t-shirt that identified the team and had a number on the back. I cannot remember what my number was but, it most likely it was in the 30s since the numbers corresponded to the size. Mine might as well have said XL on the back (it still fit a little snug).
The rest of my uniform seemed reasonable when I got in the car with my mom. Black sweatpants, to match the shirt. Basketball shoes from the previous season and a hat with the logo of whatever team I was most interested in at the time.
One minute of scanning the field and batting cages showed that I was, once again, unprepared.
Kids wore baseball pants like the professionals have. New baseball cleats adorned feet all around me. Kids even had special bags to carry their bats, balls and gloves.
Don’t get me wrong, if I would have asked for these things, I would have gotten them. I just didn’t know to ask.
Besides, I had an awesome glove with Ken Griffey Jr.’s signature on the palm.
Now, what made Bronco baseball different from what I had played in the past was that the coaches no longer threw underhand to us. We would see real pitching from other players.
If I didn’t look so dopey in my sweatpants, I may have looked intimidating due to my size. But, instead I played the part of the tall, chubby, awkward wuss with over-sized feet that didn’t fit into the holes that had been dug into the batters box.
There is no way to sugar coat it, I was afraid of the ball. I don’t know why, I just was. I hate that I was. I am embarrassed because I love baseball, but I was flat-out scared.
I was as self-conscious then as I am now. I was scared of getting hit. I was scared of striking out. I was scared of everybody laughing at me.
My at bats were a coin flip between a walk and a strikeout. If the pitcher threw especially hard, I would probably not swing the bat. If they threw a little easier, I would take pathetic swings and strikeout. I can remember my mom telling me on the way home after games that I should never strikeout with the bat on my shoulder.
Easy for you to say, mom. You’re not on the field risking your life on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This is not hyperbole, I got one hit the entire season. One. Uno.
When I got that hit. I clapped for myself on first base through the first few pitches of the next players at bat. It was a big deal for me.
In the field, however, I was able to hold my own. The majority of the time I spent my time playing first base or right field (where the slow kids play).
For some reason, when we played the best team in the league, my coach decided that I should give left field a try.
There was a twelve year-old on the opposing team that I had only heard stories about. He threw the hardest fastball in Bronco history and was on his way to setting the record for the most home runs in a season.
I had enough to worry about stepping into the batters box against this freak of nature. Now I had to worry about trying to catch fly balls?
See, when this kid played. All of the others kids hanging out at the baseball field wanted to watch him hit home runs.
He batted right-handed. I was playing left field. I knew enough to understand that I was going to have balls hit at me in left field.
Luckily, I had gotten little to no action through most of the game. Then, he stepped in to the batters box.
My heart started to pound.
It stopped every time the pitcher released the ball.
Ball. Strike. Ball. Ball. Then…
Ting, a high fly ball was head my direction.
Oh, dear God why?
I took two quick steps forward for some unknown reason. Spun around awkwardly and started retreating toward the fence.
You can do this. You can do this.
I was running full speed and the next thing I knew I was laying on my stomach with my foot caught under the chain link fence.
I focused so hard on catching the ball that I forgot about the outfield fence.
I was running after the fly ball with my hands in the air (looking extremely athletic, no doubt) preparing to try to make the catch when I ran into the fence, which came up to my chest. My arms flung forward over the fence then recoiled and flung back over my head. By some cruel miracle, my glove managed to swat the baseball and stop it from clearing the fence for a home run.
Now, I lay staring at the ball 15 feet in front of me as I make labored wheezing noises since the collision with the fence had knocked the air out of my lungs.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. My foot is stuck. Get up. GET UP!
Over my wheezing, I heard the laughter. It came from the crowd, from the opposing dugout and from my teammates.
I struggled to my feet and got to the ball as the batter rounded third on his way to an inside the park home run. I made a weak, off target throw to the infield as he crossed home plate.
The embarrassment was too much. I started to cry and faked an injury (not my most proud moment). My coach came out to my aid and luckily was sympathetic enough to replace me in the outfield.
I shouldn’t have been in left field anyway.
My teammates continued to giggle as I made my way to the dugout.
I hated baseball that season. But, looking back, I learned some real valuable life lessons.
Don’t strike out with out swinging.
It doesn’t matter how you look as long as you give it everything you’ve got.
If you give it everything you’ve got, you’ll eventually get a hit.
And, most importantly, if you find yourself in an embarrassing situation… start crying and fake an injury.