My First Baseball Season: A Story of Embarrassment

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?

Not good.

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.

Don’t cry.

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.

Cheers.

Bee is for Baby

Spelling is something that has always come natural to me. Even at a young age, spelling was one thing that I was really good at.

I can remember my spelling tests hanging on the refrigerator. The thin, grey recycled paper with the lines and dashes to help kids with printing upper and lower case letters held up with flimsy magnets. Usually, they were adorned with a gold star, “great job,” or a smiley face (sometimes all three).

My errors were usually made when I got over-confident. For example, I left the ‘r’ out of ‘shirt’ on one of my tests. That one seemed to stay on the fridge longer than the rest.

Spelling was my favorite part of second grade. I would blast out perfect tests week after week with an occasional slip up here and there.

As the freckle faced kid who towered over everybody in my class and weighed twice as much, it felt good to have this thing that I was truly good at. So, I was over the moon when I found out that I would compete in the spelling bee.

Yes, this would be my chance to shine.

The event would be held in the Riverside Elementary School Library. The library was filled with Apple II computers that I can only remember using to play Number Munchers, Word Munchers, Oregon Trail, and Odell Lake (you’re welcome for those links). This was to be the backdrop for me to show off my spelling talent.

I can remember sitting in front of classmates who were sitting on the floor cross-legged. Various faculty and parents stood behind them. It felt like a huge audience to me. It is now one of my first memories of the chest squeezing anxiety that I have since become so familiar with.

When it was my turn, I stepped up to the microphone and the word was read aloud.

“Helicopter.”

“Helicopter. H-E-L-I-C-O-P-T-E-R. Helicopter.”

“That is correct.”

Boom. A tricky word right out of the gate but, I nailed it. The nerves and anxiety were gone. I couldn’t wait to get up and spell my next word.

I patiently waited until it was my turn again. None of the other participants were eliminated on their first word, but, nobody got a word as difficult as helicopter either.

I stepped up to the mic again and listened carefully.

“Baby.”

Baby? Really?

Quickly I said, “Baby. B-A-Y-B-Y. Baby”

“Incorrect.”

That anxiety came back, along with a lump in my throat that made it feel like I swallowed a grapefruit. I stood frozen with everybody staring at me.

No. NO. What did I just do? B-A-B-Y not B-A-Y-B-Y! I just lost…

That was it. My run in the spelling bee came to an end after just two words. My eyes stung as the tears began to well up. I sat down and heard giggles coming from the crowd. My nightmare.

The lump in my throat grew to the size of a cantaloupe.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I did my best, but I had already started. Tears silently ran down my face and dripped off of my quivering chin as I scolded myself for not taking my time. I had just sounded it out in my head and spelled like it sounded.

I am so dumb.

I waited until recess to really let the crying begin. The disappointment mixed with the embarrassment proved to be way to much for me. I found a corner of the playground and cried, wishing that I could have another chance. Then, I heard laughter approaching.

Three girls from another 2nd grade class were headed my way spelling in unison, “B-A-Y-B-Y, B-A-Y-B-Y… Baby, baby!”

The lead girl (whose name I remember, but will not repeat here) asked, “why were you even in the spelling bee if you can’t spell baby, baby?”

The other girls laughed.

I had no response. What could I say? She was right, I made a fool of myself. I walked away saying, “just leave me alone.”

Obviously, this request fell on deaf ears. They continued to follow me laughing with the leader girl chanting, “baby, baby, baby!”

Looking back, this girl had insecurities of her own as she was by far the biggest kid in the grade (yes, even bigger than me). This didn’t last long, but she just happened to grow a lot faster than most. And, I was an easy target.

My options were running out. My next step was to go tell on these girls… the dreaded last resort, the cowards way out, but I didn’t know what else to do. When I heard the voice of my best friend.

“Why don’t you shut up and leave him alone, fatty.”

Kids are mean (but, she deserved it in my opinion).

The laughter stopped and my buddy was now walking by my side as I continued to cry.

“Who cares what they think? She wasn’t even in the spelling bee. She probably can’t even spell ‘I.'”

Not the best put down but it made me laugh. As mean as kids can be, they are the most loyal and attentive to their friends feelings. It’s because we have so little going on in our lives at eight years old that there is nothing yet to be self involved with. There is no better feeling in the world when your best friends come to your side when you need them the most. I will never forget that moment that solidified our friendship forever.

The easy thing to do would have been to leave me on my own and not be the one standing up for the giant, awkward wuss but, he did without hesitation. And that is fucking cool (sorry for the language).

“Do you want to go play kickball?”

I wiped my nose with my sleeve and managed a, “yes.”

We ran across the play ground like only eight year-olds can. Five minutes later I buried my embarrassment and self-loathing deep, not to see the light of day for 22 years.

Cheers. C-H-E-E-R-S. Cheers.

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