Saturday, April 29, 2006

My baseball journey began 20 years ago this month

In April 1986, I attended my first T-ball practice. I don't specifically remember anything about that first practice, but I do remember a lot from that first season. Probably the biggest things I remember are 1) not wanting to be on the team and 2) being confused as to why my parents were making me be on the team.

Oh, and I was a really bad player.

On the bright side, if Hollywood had made a movie of our team that season, I would have been the main star for being a walking "comedy of errors." However, back in those days, nobody on my team was laughing.

In my league, our teams didn't have nicknames. We were simply sponsored by one of the many local businesses and that would be our team name. But my team was different. We were sponsored by the park where all the games were played, which was called Robinette; and we had a nickname that was on our jerseys and hats: The Buck-A-Roos.

But more than our name was different. We were the worst team in the league--and I was our worst player.

I do think we won a game that year (might have won a second due to forfeit, I forget). But honestly, the losing didn't bother me at all since we got "treats" at the end regardless. What did bother me was my constant struggle to get "good wood" on the ball which constantly taunted me on that intimidating tee as I stood in the batter's box alone in front of everyone. It seemed every time my first swing would be over the top, then my second swing would be halfway down the tee and the ball would go about five feet--sometimes I'd run and sometimes I wouldn't, depending on what I thought the chances were of the ball actually making it out of that ever evil "semi-circle" of foul territory. This process would repeat until I either "struck out" or hit a weak grounder to the pitcher or first baseman who would make the easy play to get me out. It wasn't until about halfway through the season that some player botched one of these easy plays and I finally made it to first base safely. My parents took a picture to commemorate this milestone and the first base coach carefully explained to me which direction I needed to run when the ball was hit next. (Of course, as I had expected, I ended up getting mowed down at second base anyway.)

But the real reason I'm writing this post is because this 20-year anniversay has put me in a nostalgic mood regarding my entire baseball journey. I've been thinking about many, many plays throughout the years and it's interesting (to me personally) how certain plays really have stuck with me. Some things will probably stay in my mind for as long as my mind is coherent. In fact, five in particular have popped into my head... five of my worst moments as a baseball player. In this post I'll recount #5 on the list, and in the coming weeks I'll make my way down the list all the way to my most embarrassing baseball memory.

#5 "The Unpopular Executive Decision"

This one actually goes all the way back to that first year. It was early in the season, and I was playing center field. I remember thinking back in those days that the outfield was like being in outer space, and when I was out there, what was happening in the infield was kind of like looking into a strange planet. In other words, the infield was a whole different world to me... one that some day I might get to visit, but for now, I was stuck on a different planet--Planet Outfield.

As I was saying, on this damp, spring day I was playing center field. The sky was overcast and the temperature was cool. I remember the wet green grass... the brown patches of mud... the soggy yellow dandelions... wondering why we weren't inside watching cartoons... and then looking up to see a bunch of blue jerseys running in my direction. (These were the infielders on my team.)

Now, even at the tender age of six, I knew what this meant--and I was facing the first crisis situation of my life.

Immediately I spotted the white ball hopping past my legs and I turned tail in pursuit, fully realizing that I had let my teammates down. Despite the fact that I had at least four players from my team also chasing after that ball, I was determined to "make things right." And I definitely was going to be the first one to that ball. Part of me wanted to be able to tell my teammates, "Hey, stop running after the ball, I'll get it." But there was no time to talk as I ran with purpose.

Of course, by the time I got to the ball, it had stopped rolling and was way deep in the outfield (there was no fence or warning track for this field). I picked up the ball and turned around. By now, two other players were next to me asking for the ball, and some others were about halfway out into the outfield, yelling for the ball.

At this point I remember thinking, "Now what?"

Do I hand the ball off to one of my fellow outfielders or do I throw it to an infielder? The pressure built.

I might not have cared about the winning and losing back then, but I still had pride. There was something that didn't sit well with me just handing the ball off for someone else to make the throw. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't make that throw...

I had gotten us into this mess, so I was going to get us out. I would get a running start, then make the throw. So I blew off my fellow outfielders and ran toward my panicking infielders; with every step I made a calculation in my head as to whether or not now was the time to make the throw. As I kept running, my momentum built up and even though I was getting closer to my screaming infielders, the calculations in my head still weren't coming out in favor of a throw. In fact, I was starting to feel more comfortable with the run and then something else started to happen... I was becoming mesmerized by the allure of Planet Infield.

I could now see players from the opposing team flying around the bases and marching home like a parade of ants--and I could hear the parents in the bleachers yelling and cheering (I was later told that my team's parents were yelling the whole time at me to, "Throw the ball!")

But I had now come too far to stop, and seeing these enemy players showing me up by taking advantage of my mistake only further aroused my anger. In a snap decision, I opted to stick to my guns (mainly because I knew I didn't have any) and try to run one of those guys down like a cheetah catching an antelope for the kill. In my mind, it was our only hope.

So, much to the horror of every single Robinette Buck-A-Roo fan and player, I bypassed my teammates who were waiting for my throw and went by foot with ball in hand all the way into Planet Infield. As I approached the mysterious territory of second base I could see that the last of the runners was now about three steps from home plate so I switched to "Plan B" and made a desperation throw that ultimately came to a harmless stop about halfway down the first base foul line.

At the time, I remember thinking that the throw had actually vindicated me, but I don't think anyone else saw it that way. I got some "looks" from my fellow six- and seven-year old teammates--and most people in the bleachers must have had pity for my parents' embarrassment.

But oh well, I still got treats.


Westy said...

Wow, that is an absolutely classic story. What an enjoyable post.

You know, though, really it was destiny. If you had an exceptional career, what would you have to write about now? Your failures have given you fodder to write about, and likely taught you to be the person you are.

Chairman said...

Greg - the fact that this is #5 makes me very interested in the upcoming stories.