I missed my chance to tag him as he ran across second base and I started chasing him to third. I realized that I’d never catch him so I stopped, reared back, and beaned him in the back with the ball as hard as I could. It caught him right between the shoulder blades and he went straight to the ground, face in the dirt. The coaches and other kids gasped, open-jawed, not believing what I had done.
I had much to learn about baseball. My only knowledge of the game was from playing kickball, so I didn’t really know all the rules on my first day of baseball practice. I thought you tagged people out by hitting them with the ball. I realized pretty quickly that I was not cut out to be a professional athlete.
That same day, I hit a short fly ball during batting practice (one of the rare times I ever connected with the ball) and took off towards third base. After that, all the coaches started talking to me really slowly, using only short words.
They parked me out in deep left field to minimize my impact on the team. I rotated in half the time with a ginger kid who cried every time he got to the plate. He would just stand there at the plate and weep, streaming tears down his sad freckled cheeks.
My job was to stand out in the back of the outfield and try not to mess up the team. If a ball got popped my way, the other fielders would run into my area and take care of it. That was fine by me. I was a bundle of nerves out there, I didn’t really know how the game was played, and I felt like I was a moment away from barfing at all times. I was often not even facing home plate, distracted by kids doing stuff on the playground nearby.
In batting practice, I’d wildly swing and whiff the ball. Each time I’d miss, I’d comedically spin all the way around backwards, sometimes falling down. Or I’d stand in the outfield and chew on the strings of my glove. Or I’d sit in the dugout and wait for Ginger Crybaby to come tag in again. These practices felt like they’d never end.
The big day came for our first game. We were the Yankees and I was randomly assigned #5. I squeezed a blue hat onto my enormous head and wore cleats for the first time. I woke up that day feeling ready to turn the corner on this whole baseball thing. I visualized connecting with the ball, snatching fly balls out of the air, sliding into bases. This would be my Day of Redemption. The coaches were going to notice me today, maybe even learn my name.
In my first at-bat, I stood on home plate and tapped each of my shoes with my bat. I didn’t know why, but I had seen the pros do it on TV and I thought it was a cool move. I gave the pitcher a confident little chin-up move, visually telling him “I’m ready, you better bring your A-game”.
Oh he brought it. Right at my thigh.
I’d find out later that he hit me so hard, the ball bounced almost all the way back to him. I tried to get up, couldn’t, and laid on home plate and cried. Two of the coaches dragged me to first base and reminded me in slow, short words that we’re not supposed to bring the bat around the bases with us.
While I sat on first base, crying, the next batter cracked the next ball right at me. It whizzed past my head, I freaked out, and I ran for the dugout to take cover. From then on, every time I was at bat, I’d flinch and close my eyes and wildly swing in the air like a piñata. It made for some good laughter from the crowd, but I was scared to death of that damn ball.
My baseball career ended after that brief and terrible season. But even though I never got very good at the bat, I did get really good at swinging at piñatas.