(This is a repost from HH2B as I convert that site to a comics-only page.)
When we arrived in Fresno in 4th grade, my parents were convinced that this would (might?) be the last move. To that end, they tried to get me involved in sports to better involve me in the community and make friends and whatnot. This ended up trying to get me active in sports. For someone whose best friend was a stuffed animal, whose only memory of playing games outside at school involved being beaten up in some way (I’ll talk about that someday lol), and who’d probably never even seen sports before (I sure don’t remember ever having had), it was a challenging proposition to say the least.
First, we tried soccer, I think because we’d just missed Little League season. I played for the Slater Stingers or some such, because I think our team’s mascot was a feral bee with anger issues. I played fullback. If you’re unfamiliar with soccer (or what the Europeans like to call Football, or what the Latin Americans have condensed to just Futbol, or what the Australians call “What we let sissies and paraplegics play if they can’t handle rugby”) then know that a fullback is a defender. They stand between the enemy team and the goalie and (hopefully) make his job easier by blocking their approach to the goal.
The reason why I played fullback is because I had absolutely no soccer skills, and hated running. But I was a body, and I could accidentally trip attackers like nobody’s business. And since I looked so inept doing so, I never got carded, because it really looked like I was going for the ball, even though on the inside, my purpose in life was “destroy the enemy ball carrier at any cost.” It’s a wonder I didn’t get arrested, so badly did I try tripping these kids. Maybe refs at the 4th grade level don’t really look at the intent of the trip too hard. I don’t know.
But yeah. It was the running that got me there. God I hated running. Every day, the coach would make us run laps around Slater Elementary. Maybe it was around the entire school. I don’t know. Slater has an enormous play yard. You could fit three modern schools on Slater’s campus, and still have room for the preschool jungle gym. Coach would make us run, and I’d be in the back, sweating, lagging, essentially dying. Every single lap, I’d ask the coach a question: “How old do I have to be to have a heart attack?” “How old do I have to be to have an aneurysm?” “How old do I have to be to get leprosy?” Every lap, for an entire season, a different malady. “Heat stroke?” “Epilepsy?” “Tourrettes?” “Malaria?” I wasn’t sure, but I was certain he was torturing us just to meet his sadistic needs. If The Princess Bride had existed, I imagine that with each lap, he could have answered “I just ran 1 year out of your body. How do you feel?”
When the season was over, it was over for good. I never played soccer again. I regretted that decision more times that you will ever believe, because the first true love on my life (who I hung myself in front of once, but that’s another story too) loved soccer, and went on to play it quite vigorously in high school. Nevetheless, I couldn’t imagine having to do another year of this torturous stuff, and besides, I’d run out of fatal mishaps to ask my coach about. It was time to move on.
And move on we did, to Little League. My dad, intent on my success like no dad I’ve ever known (honestly, he’s the best dad I’ve ever had), became the coach of the Pirates. We had cool yellow and black uniforms, with white pants, and stirrups. Stirrups! How old-school was that? Well, this was like, 1977. I guess we weren’t “old school” then… Just “school.” Anyway, we had some GREAT players on our team. There was this guy, Louis, who was our first baseman. He’d hit the ball when it was pitched at him. He’d catch the ball when it was hit at him. He was great.
Me? Not so much.
I had trouble concentrating, sometimes, out there in left field. True story, I let the ball roll by me once, too zoned into my own little world to notice there was a baseball game going on very near to me. My father hit me in the head with a baseball once. Not because he wanted to, but during pop-up practice he hit it right to me, and I wasn’t paying any attention at all. But that’s ok. I was a great hitter. Right? RIGHT?
Yep. I was, I think, the worst hitter in the history of Fresno Little League. For the two years I played baseball, I had a lifetime batting average of 0.000. For those following along at home, that’s zero. I never once got a hit. Ever. The few times I made it on base, it was either because I got hit by a pitch, or walked. I mean, I tried. I tried. We’d take a bucket of balls out to Lions Park over behind Slater and practice hitting pitches. We’d get a roll of quarters and go to Blackbeards for a day — not riding the water slides, not playing miniature golf — just to blast balls in the batting cage. I could hit a ball. If I tried really hard, I could do it.
But come gametime, when that ball came, WHIFF. Sometimes it was just too fast, it seemed. Sometimes it was just too slippery, it seemed. Sometimes I was threatened by its presence and I closed my eyes and swung unseeingly. Whiff, whiff, whiff. You’re out!
I played baseball for two years. I gave it the old college try. At the end of the day, though, sports and I agreed to end our relationship amicably. Today, I am a mere voyeur, watching my Dodgers rise up from the obscurity they’ve been slumming in for so many years, and I am loving it. But I’m also at a crucial crossroads. My son is in 4th grade. He wants to try sports. He tried soccer and didn’t like it, because he didn’t like running.
Maybe my dad knew I wasn’t the athletic type. Maybe he just wanted to give me every chance to succeed; to do things he’d wanted to do but never had the chance to. Maybe in his quest to become my hero, he built in me the desire to be a hero for my kid too. I kinda feel like finding a bucket of balls and a roll of quarters, and letting the chips fall where they may.