Baseball was the first sport I ever learned; that is if you don’t count the “bop bag” where I partially learned how to box at the age of three. Both my parents were baseball fans growing up and often if we couldn’t watch the game on television my dad would listen to it on the radio while he worked in the garage or on another project. I grew up imagining I would one day become famous like Ozzie Smith.
Many summers were spent in backyards with neighborhood kids while we perfected our techniques. In our neighborhood, it was primarily boys and constantly the older neighbor kid two houses down was setting the bar as far as being a young athlete was concerned. He was one of the catalysts for my softball career in the summer of 1989.
That summer I felt like a real kid. All the other summers felt like practice leading up to this one, the one where I would become awesome. At least becoming awesome is what I thought was going to happen.
My parents officially enrolled me in our local summer softball league. In small towns the teams are usually funded by local businesses, therefore whatever team you are placed on, you are wearing a shirt emblazoned with the logo of the sponsor on the front with a random number on the back. I had never been so thrilled in my life to be a part of something bigger than myself and to wear the number six on my back.
My first and only summer as a softball player started out with a bang. One game I managed to get an R.B.I. and often I would do well but somehow half way through the summer I hit a slump. My bold promise of becoming awesome resulted in me being called “meat-head” by one team member, but not for my baseball skills or lack thereof, but for trying to join in on conversation I wasn’t welcomed in on apparently.
This is when the slump started, when I tried to be more social. My parents having noticed the decline in my skills tried to help me. Often times we would practice in the back yard working on throwing and catching and last but not least, batting and batting stances. My lack of awesomeness in this category resulted in an umpire feeling threatened. Let me explain.
My parents are very supportive, and at times potentially loud supporters when sports are involved. My first name is not a common name but apparently my name was also shared by the umpire that night. There I stood at home plate holding my bat barely above my shoulders. My parents were in the bleachers just behind the dug out screaming, rooting me on, when all of a sudden they yell my first name followed by, “PUT YOUR HANDS UP!” Unfortunately I couldn’t hear them the first few times because I was concentrating, and again they shouted my first name followed by “PUT YOUR HANDS UP!”
The umpire, looking very confused from behind home plate slowly started to put her hands up only to realize the people threatening and yelling at her to put her hands up, were actually parents talking to a plain looking tom-boy, wearing a Batman baseball cap with a poor batting stance. After the game a lot of explaining was done and even though everyone laughed off what happened, it didn’t earn my team extra points.
So, I wasn’t the greatest batter and maybe I just needed practice. Maybe my path to greatness was not meant to be discovered for my hitting abilities but maybe for what came later in the summer. The coach placed me at home plate; I was going to be a catcher.
When we would arrive for a game, typically we would go a few fields over, find a partner and practice catching and throwing with them until game time, we would get warmed-up. Just before the game, and after warming up, is when I found out about my fate. This was the first time, in my entire life I ever remember getting butterflies in my stomach, except they were less like butterflies and more like tiny mildly agitated badgers poking my stomach from the inside out.
You see, on my team, our pitcher was a young lady whose birth name was that of a well known muscle car and she had the throwing arm to match the speed of the car she was named after. Now you can see the cause of the butterflies in my stomach. This would be the first time anything has ever come toward me that fast with my whole body and my left gloved hand as the target. As the night grew on the pain in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t go away. With each growing inning I crouched at home plate afraid her fast pitch was going to channel itself through my stomach leaving a burrowed hole through my backside, through the chain-link fence behind me and into the audience where they would have to duck and cover as if a smoking meteorite were heading their way. Luckily nothing eventful like that happened, but it took forever for the butterflies to go away.
Just like Thomas Edison found 10,000 ways to not make a light bulb, I found 10,000 ways to not be awesome that summer. Everyone has a path, everyone has their own awesomeness, I was on the path, it just wasn’t my time yet and certainly not through baseball.
What path did you expect to lead you to awesomeness as a kid? What did you think you were going to be great at because you had a love for it only to find out through the process of trying, you were terrible?