The Baseball Game Symbolizes the End of My Childhood

My father once told me that there are only two kinds of people in life: assholes and people who haven’t realized they’re assholes.

 

I.

If I’m ever on Oprah (once she has her own Jay Leno-esque meltdown and has a proper interview show again, with couches), I want to put up front that I don’t remember some of the details of this story, and some of them were probably pretty important, so I just made shit up that sounded cool to fill in the gaps.  If you don’t like that or you remember how these events actually happened: fuck you, this is my story.

There once was a time when I knew I’d save the world, though I was never quite sure what that meant.  I didn’t really think there was something wrong with it and it wasn’t that I was unhappy or even dissatistified with how things were.  I never had a clear idea of what exactly I was going to do either.  Sometimes I’d be curing cancer and AIDS and other times I’d picture myself conquering the world in a Japanese mech suit.  I was just a child, surrounded by superhero comics, video game adventures, and The Lord of the Rings, and I can’t explain it any better than that.  Basically the whole thing boiled down to this nagging feeling that I was going to have to do something because, you know, who the fuck else was gonna do it?

I knew I had some natural talents that I could probably use and I had a father who was at least somewhat interested in making sure I understood them and fostered them.  He arranged for me to take a test once that told me I was pretty smart and they let me take the “more difficult” classes at the tiny school district I went to that didn’t offer many “more difficult” classes.  I learned I’m pretty good at chemistry and even better at math and that where my interests lied I could learn very quickly and retain quite a lot.

By my senior year in high school I’d taken both Advanced Placement courses that the state forced all schools to offer (each class had two other students including me and they were not the same two) and so they let me kind of do whatever I wanted.  They let me teach algebra to Freshman with the one somewhat attractive teacher in our school.  I really enjoyed it but I was terrible at it.  I created an independent study of ancient world civilizations because they fascinated me with one of the few teachers I respected.  I read a lot of books about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Minoans and I wrote a lot of papers.  I don’t remember anything about those cultures but I remember how to write.

I was physically gifted too.  I remember when I was in 7th grade I got a ribbon with a little medal on it that told me I was the top male athlete in my school.  When I was in 8th grade I got another.  When I was in 11th grade I dated the girl who got the ribbons for top female athlete when she was in 7th and 8th grades: our kids would’ve been millionaires in tennis, golf, or being quarterbacks.

But don’t get me wrong, I never thought I was going to be Adrian Veidt or even his inspiration, Alexander the Great, though I greatly admired both; I just thought maybe my talents and education would be sufficient to at least help me make some kind of mark on or marked improvement to the world.

But this story is supposed to be about a baseball game.

I started learning to play baseball, well really tee-ball, when I was barely old enough to not piss in my bed.  When I got a little older, I guess six years old probably, I joined my first team: Wells Aluminum.  My league had teams named after sponsors and not teams named after major league teams.  I always wished we could’ve been “the Cubs” or “the Yankees” so I could’ve pretended I was Ryne Sandberg or Don Mattingly.  Instead I had to just be Don <redacted> of Wells Aluminum.

It was a coed team and my dad was either an assistant coach or just one of those parents who couldn’t just sit and watch the fucking game.  I can’t remember and probably didn’t know at the time anyway.  Either way, he and I spent a lot of time in the preseason working on my game: throwing, batting, running, sliding, and all that shit.  My dad always used this old catchers mitt when we’d toss the ball around, I think it was his dad’s once.  It’s funny how I can remember little things like that, but anyway the point is I had become a stud-muffin, a freak, a sun-bronzed god by the time I took the field for the first time that summer in 1990.

And our team was pretty good.  Most of us could hit the ball instead of the tee most of the time.  We could usually hit the ball into the outfield where they put the fat kids and the kids with poor coordination and the kids with underdeveloped brains, which meant we’d get on base.  If you scored 6 runs in an inning it would end, regardless of how many outs the other team had managed.  A lot of our offensive innings ended on this mercy rule, but I guess a lot of our defensive innings did too.  We seemed to win more often than not though, but I didn’t really care, we got pizza afterwards either way.

I cared a lot about my performance though.  I played third base and got to field a lot of balls.  I never overthrew first, but sometimes the first baseman would fuck up the catch and the runner would be safe.  I’d spit a colorful glob of big-league-chew-dyed saliva into the dirt and kick at it with an angry frown.  I thought it probably looked cool, like Mckayla Maroney twenty years before she officially made the disappointed scowl fashionable again.

We went into what they called the post season full of confidence.  My father assured us that we had the talent to win the championship.  I believed him.  I still don’t understand why but I knew I was going to get my first trophy.  I wanted it so bad, wanted to show it to my friends.  I knew exactly where I was going to put it.

In the first round we drew a team with more lame ducks than the pond in the infield at Talledega (I don’t know if this is a real thing, I just tried to imagine a place where a lot of ducks would get injured).

We lost and I cried like the little bitch that I was.

 

II.

When I entered the full blown fast pitch baseball league a few years later I was a beast.  My ten year old body was rippling with muscles that would’ve made a pedophile lose interest.  I could bench press a million pounds and tear phone books in half.  I was just starting to realize what it meant to be beastly and mentally I was gaining a swagger that went with it.  It was all going so fucking well.  I was ten years old and the world was mine.

But then chance, as it’s so often wont to do, decided to bitch slap me.

Did you know that the hands are considered part of the bat?  I remember how I learned.  One of the more developed kids on the opposing team, who’s dad would later go on to steal a meteorite fragment from a store near our hometown that he would try to sell at a gun show, could throw fucking heat and he was pitching that night.  He had a mustache and I was scared of him.  But as I went up to bat, I pushed the fear down and felt some level of determination start to build within me.  I channeled my budding swagger and I just knew I was gonna fuck his shit up.

He threw his heat into the dust in front of the plate: ball one.

C’mon dude, gotta give me a chance at it.

I backed out of the box, spit a bright purple loogie to the dirt, readjusted my batting gloves that I didn’t need, and flashed the scowl I’d spent the previous four years mastering.

I stepped back into the box and the heat was thrown across the plate.  I swung with every muscle fiber in my body exploding.  The bat met the ball but it wasn’t a good connection, they just weren’t right for each other at that moment in their respective lives, ball and bat, so it fouled off down the first base line: strike one.

Ok, that was practice, gonna get the next one.

He threw his heat again.  I’m not sure if I was thinking about the last pitch, reveling in how far I’d launched the ball, or if I was thinking about how I could maybe convince my dad to get Pizza Hut for me after the game or maybe about how I wanted to see Sarah C’s boobs but I didn’t really know why.  Whatever the distraction was I didn’t notice the pitch was coming right at me until it actually hit me.

My left hand, firmly gripping the bat, felt like it had been stung by a bee, except the bee had been juicin’ like Barry Bonds and had a stinger made out of a nuclear bomb.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw my hand disappear in a pink and red mist.  When I fully looked my hand was completely gone; my arm now ended at the wrist with a nub of bloody flesh and blood was spraying everywhere.

The ball bounced off and landed a few feet in front of me and I stood there looking at it, knowing I was about to bleed out and die.  I guess I was probably in shock.

“Run!” my coach screamed.  I still didn’t move.  I couldn’t process the noise into the meaning it represented.

“Run, kid, that’s a hit!” someone else was screaming.

“C’mon boy, run, hands are part of the bat,” the umpire was shouting and I finally managed to understand.  Everyone was shouting at me.

Are you idiots fucking kidding me?  My hand is ruined and I’m clearly dying, fuck your stupid bases!

I saw the pitcher start running towards the ball and I could hear the catcher behind me doing the same.  I guess instinct kicked in because I started running towards first base figuring if I got there maybe then I could go to the hospital and die in a comfortable bed or at least probably get Pizza Hut from my dad.  About half way there I saw the ball go flying past me about a million feet above the ground.  The kid on first base was about nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety six feet too short to field it.  As I reached first base my coaches and the crowd kept screaming for me to continue running, to round the base and run to second.

When I made it to third base they let me stop and I cried like the little bitch that I was.  They brought in a pinch runner for me and allowed me to go see the EMT.  He used his magic wizard powers and also applied an ice pack.  My hand grew back and was fine.  I’m using it now to type this and occasionally to scratch my balls.

Aside from being barely interesting, this little sub-story has a point: it took the wind from my sails, deflated my ego, stole my swagger that I’d barely gotten to know.  I couldn’t fucking bat for an entire year.  For the rest of the season any pitch where the ball successfully left the pitcher’s hand would cause me to jump backwards out of the batters box, tuck my head between my knees, and cry and fart.  I was no longer hot shit at a hundred miles an hour.  I was still a child.

Over the rest of the season my dad spent hours with me in the back yard, pitching tennis balls to me.  Occasionally he’d hit me, not that he was trying, but it would happen and completely undo any progress that was made that week.  He was always very patient and encouraging.  I didn’t think he was an asshole.

 

III.

The next year I was ok.  I was able to hit the ball again, but it was a relatively uneventful year.  I hit my first couple homers, so that was awesome, and I just continued to mold my body into a ball destroying machine.  Our team won more games than we lost, and that seemed to make our parents pretty happy.

I learned to play every position and could even pitch a little, though I didn’t really like it.  I never felt like I had control of the ball, I’d just go through the motions I was taught and sometimes the ball would cross the plate and sometimes it would hit the opposing teams dugout.  But I found I liked to catch (insert your own gay jokes, I’m feeling lazy) and spent a lot of time coming up with complex pitch codes that I was sure rivaled the best Allied and Nazi ciphers of World War II, as if any 10 – 12 year old could actually throw more than two different pitches.  I batted .400 on the year and my strut came back.

 

IV.

By my third year I was back to being pretty damn good, plus a little more.  Our team was pretty damn good too.  We weren’t the red team, but we were pretty damn good.

The red team was coached by the league commissioner.  The league was supposed to have players randomly assigned to teams, but somehow the red team was made up of the fifteen best athletes in the world.  They were all in their mid-twenties and physically beautiful.  They had the best equipment.  They played in prime time, under the lights.  They ran the table every year, undefeated, championships, trophies, hot wives, seven-figure endorsement deals, Ferraris, everything I wanted.  They were the professionals and the rest of us just their fodder.

But our pretty good team had a pretty good season.  We lost a few games, but we grew from those losses and ultimately wound up heading into the postseason tournament believing we had a chance to do pretty good.

When we faced the green team in the first round we rolled over them.  When we faced the yellow team in the second round we fucked ‘em up.  When we played the purple team in the semifinals we were tested and strained.  We had to dig deep, learn about ourselves and learn about each other, but we were victorious in the end.  We punched our ticket to the big show; we were going to the championship game.

And then it was the fucking red team.  We knew it would be them just like we knew they were evil.  They were everything wrong with the world, the stuff that I was going to fix.  They had the arrogance of cheaters who knew they couldn’t be busted because they wrote the rules and I fucking hated them.  We all did.

Deep down I’m sure we all knew we couldn’t win.  Our coaches knew we couldn’t win.  We knew the game was stacked against us, that the game itself was a mockery of competition, but we didn’t care.  For us, making the game was the same as winning the game.  We had nothing to lose and a chip on our collective shoulder and we were going to let the world know.  We’d put up a fight at least; we’d be swinging for the fences.  We were righteous warriors dressed in white, and we were out to fuck shit up.

We managed to hold them scoreless after one inning, but we didn’t score either, but that was still very exciting.  I think we were proud of each other that we were able to keep them checked.  After three innings neither of our teams had scored a run yet, but our team hadn’t even managed to get on base.  Still, our confidence was growing, but just a little.

When we closed out the top of the sixth and final regular inning with them still bageled, I think that’s when we started to lose control.  There was nervous energy rocking our dugout.  No one was sitting down and piles of fingernails were starting to form in saliva pools.  It was the bottom of the sixth: showtime for the underdogs.

My neighbor, Jimmy R, took the plate.  He watched a couple of pitches slide past, I think they were both balls.  I remember the third pitch though, because he crushed it.  By the time the right fielder had control of the ball, Jimmy R was sliding into second base.

You could tell the red team was shocked and awed.  They didn’t know how to react.  They had no prior experience to look to for comfort.  They’d never been in this position.  Their coaches were shouting encouragement and threats and threats disguised as encouragement.  Willie K, took his at bat but the pitcher was mentally ruined having given up a double for the first time in his life.  He threw four consecutive balls and Willie K took his base.  The red team coaches pulled him and sent in another world-class professional closer.

No outs, two on, we were in full vaunt mode.  Our dugout was on the verge of erupting.  I imagined this is what it felt like to be in Hanson or to be on the red team.  I had an erection.

Adam B entered the batter’s box.  He watched a couple of strikes.  He was one of our lame ducks.  As the third pitch was released Jimmy R’s body unleashed his full cheetah panther american shorthair speed.  He stole third as Adam B struck out.  With Jimmy R sitting on third all we needed was a hit and it was my turn to bat.

I was nervous as hell and I did all the pre-bat rituals I could think of to calm myself down and buy some time: knocked the dirt off my cleats, readjusted the straps on my batting gloves that I still didn’t need, spit a half dozen times.  All eyes were on me.  I put on my now trademarked anger-frown-scowl and stepped up.

The first pitch came in right across the plate and I swung wildly.  I made contact and this time it was love at first sight; a good hit that found the gap between third and the shortstop.  As it rolled out into the grass and was scooped up perfectly by the outfielder, Jimmy R was halfway home.  The throw came in immediately, but it was too late.  Jimmy R stomped on home plate: game over.

I heard an explosion and human shrapnel poured out of our dugout.  I was swallowed up in a pile of bodies and then exhumed by our coaches and then lifted up and put back down in bear hugs.  Someone dumped lemonade on us and it made our bodies sticky in the hot summer sun.  On that day, we were giant killers.  We were larger than life.  I was better than the Mighty Casey.  I was Jesus Christ and John Wayne.

The red team cried like the little bitches they were.  Their salty tears and heads hung low filled me with intense joy.

We lined up for the post game hand shake.  I shook every hand slowly and I stared down each kid.  When they wouldn’t meet my gaze I felt really good.  Even the coaches wouldn’t make eye contact with me.  They were the better athletes, but we were the fucking winners.  I felt smug and I liked it.

When we returned to school a few weeks later I made sure to keep reminding the former red team players how my single destroyed their perfect game, their perfect season, and their perfect lives.  In the off season they’d lost all their endorsements, their sports cars, and their hot wives.  It made me high reminding them that I was the man.  I felt smug and I really really liked it.

 

V.

That was more than fifteen years ago.  I didn’t study chemistry or math really in college or grad school.  I think it’s because they told me it would be harder to make a lot of money in those fields and that money shows other people that you’re the man.  Now I’m kinda chubby.  I think it’s because I eat lots of carbs and the only exercise I get is walking between places where I can sit down.  They told me you don’t need a great body to be the man, just great stuff.

And, oh baby, I’ve got great stuff now.  My car can accelerate to sixty miles per hour from a stop in less than three seconds and it sounds like an F1 car because it is.  I’ve never actually done the zero to sixty bit but I tell someone about how I could do it every single fucking day and then they know I’m the man.  I wear my scowl when i drive it so you’ll know that I’m unimpressed.  Now I have shoes that cost more than you make in a week and I know that they make me important and I hate your guts if you’ve never noticed them.

I keep chasing the high that was that grounder that summer in 1996.

I guess I’m not a child anymore and I’m not gonna save the world.  I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to.

I guess this story wasn’t about baseball.

My father was right.

Posted in Barely Interesting Non-Fiction, Don
       

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