I mentioned before that I grew up with no great love for team sports. To some extent that was inevitable, as I spent my early years living on a little country farm — my closest playmates a mile and a half down a dirt road, and neither of them my age. I learned to love solitary pursuits, and that was good enough for me.
And, of course, that’s why I’m here now.
In the summer of my seventh year, though, my best friend’s dad put together a Little League team for all my classmates from church — Josh and Brandon and Brad and Brian. Much more than any of my schoolmates, these were the people I considered my social circle. So, when Dad signed me up to spend a summer playing babeball, I was just glad of the chance to hang out with my friends a couple extra times a week.
Unfortunately, I was awful. Now, I sometimes say, “I’m bad at math” or “I’m terrible at sketching,” when what I really mean is, “I’m better at writing.” When it came to baseball, though, I was genuinely bad. Just…awful.
I did score some points. I loved to steal bases. If I could get on base, I’d steal second on the next pitch, and half the time I’d take third on the one after. I even stole home a few times, racing the pitch to the plate and astonishing some poor seven-year-old catcher so much he had a pretty good chance of just dropping the ball. As for me, I was fearless.
I was also a little bit famous. The only left-handed batter in northeast Oklahoma, those first-grade pitchers didn’t quite know how to handle me. In the Majors, that sometimes means a chance to hit a few extra homers. In Little League, for me, it meant a chance to get beaned.
A lot of chances, actually. My pitchers would throw wide left, and I’d just stand there and take the hit, earning me a free base and the chance to start stealing. I earned a reputation as the most-walked player in the league.
That part’s kind of funny to think back on, but the rest of it was miserable. I couldn’t catch the ball to save my life. They stuck me out in deep left field, and if something came my way the shortstop would sprint over to field it.
Worse yet, I never scored a single hit, through a full season. Not one. If I hadn’t been getting beaned so often, I never would have even seen first base.
Needless to say, my teammates weren’t thrilled to have me on the team. And these were my best friends, watching disappointed as I cost us game after game after game. I still shudder at the sight of a Little League field, or a grape snowcone in a cheap paper cup….
Dad made me stick out my commitment, though, so I muddled my way through one season and then walked away with a big sigh of relief. It was the happiest I’d ever been to see the end of summer.
I went back to school fresh off that experience, and for the first time in my life I had a vision test. When the results came back, they called my parents in and had a meeting with us all. Turns out, I was viciously nearsighted. The teacher had a pamphlet for us and some advice, along with probably the worst test results my parents saw from me until I started taking Trig.
My mom frowned, trying to figure out how we were going to pay for optometrist visits and new glasses that I’d inevitably break at least once a semester. My dad’s thoughts went somewhere else.
“Oh!” he shouted, slapping his forehead. I looked up at him and saw relief in his eyes. He leaned down and said, “Remember all those times your coach told you to keep your eye on the ball?”
I laughed darkly, feeling intensely betrayed. “Yeah,” I said, holding my arm straight out in front of me. “But I couldn’t even see it until it was right about here.”