Sunday, August 31, 2014

I've Made a Huge Mistake: The Worst Ball Player of All Time Returns

On Friday, an announcement was made that rocked the sporting world to its very core. A proclamation that had people rioting in the streets in some towns where folks had a little too much time on their hands prior to the long Labor Day weekend.
                After a nearly 14-year long hiatus, one of the worst, nay THE worst baseball/softball player of all time would be returning to the field in the comeback attempt that literally no one asked for and most would have preferred to avoid.
                Myself. Me. I.
                That’s right, on Friday, I decided to pick up my glove, place it back on my head, which is where it goes if I remember my time in little league correctly and join my company softball team.
                I’ve had a powerful and wholly inexplicable hankering to get back out on the diamond in recent weeks. Part of it may stem from seeing my girlfriend coach a grade school girls softball team this past spring. Part of it may stem from seeing her play in a league of her own like two summers ago.
                So I can’t say with any level of certainty what’s driven me to this state, but I do know that even though I’ve been traditionally an at-best Hiroshima-scale disaster of a ball player, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of playing the game.
                Running around outside in nice weather. Throwing the old ball around. Swinging a bat. Munching sunflower seeds. What’s not to love?
                Just when it comes to physically trying to do those things, the wheels tend to come flying off in a spectacular display of sheer ineptitude and failure the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Judas’ ill-advised April Fool’s prank on the big J.C. all those years ago.
                My last time on an organized baseball/softball team – and for the purposes of this entry, I’m just going to go ahead and treat those two sports like they’re the same thing – came in the Spring of my 7th grade year. Or as I noted earlier, about 14 years ago.
                By then, I’d managed to suppress my natural urge to wear my glove on my head, but it hadn’t made me any better of a ball player.
                I was relegated to left field (Editor's note: I now realize I was playing right field that whole time, a good indication of my mental state/awareness during that era), which is where the coaches had correctly deduced I’d be able to do the least amount of damage. I don’t remember catching any balls that year, but if one rolled slowly my way, I did almost always manage to pick it up on the very first try.
                That uninspiring defensive effort was trumped only by my legendary lack of success at the plate. I reached base exactly two times that season. Literally every other plate appearance was a strike out or ground out.

The first time I reached base was because I was hit by a pitch.  I remember it vividly: it was a night game, I got plunked on the elbow. I stood at home plate for a second or two because I had the wherewithal to know I hadn’t struck out yet and that’s how plate appearances typically ended for me. The umpire shooed me to first base and as I jogged towards the base, I felt like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Kevin Costner in that baseball movie combined. I was a golden god.
Something happened and somehow I ended up on second base. My memory must get fuzzy due to the volume of adrenaline that was pumping through my veins at that moment.
I looked to third base and my heart exploded. Figuratively exploded. The coach had flashed the “Steal sign.” That was way too much pressure so I did what anyone who’d never gotten on base before and who wanted to enjoy every second of it before heading back to the dugout in shame: I ignored the shit out of him. After the next pitch, he raised his arms in the traditional “What’s up?” sign and flashed the steal sign again. I stopped looking at him after that. The man clearly had to have been drunk. The inning ended and so did my career as a presumed base-stealer.
The second and final time I got on base that season was because I was walked- completely accidentally, of course. I remember sliding into home plate on that trip around the bases but it wasn’t nearly that dramatic. Somehow, I’d moved around the bases and someone had sent the ball into the far reaches of the outfield. When I did my slide, there was a good chance the ball wasn’t even in the outfielder’s glove. I panicked and assumed it must be screaming towards me a 100+mph.
Our team gave out two awards, the MVP award, given to the best player on the team, and the other was a sort of hodgepodge award for most “hustle,” “sportsmanship” or “most improved player.” It was all kind of lumped together into one category. Still, whatever buzzy terms the coaches applied to it, us kids all knew what it meant: It was for the kid who had the least amount of business ever stepping foot on a baseball field and who everyone was just happy hadn’t managed to kill him or herself during the course of the season.   
  I didn’t win that one either.
 That award went to the dorkiest kid in our grade school class. Looking back, he was a nice enough kid, but at the time he was weird and awkward enough to be just complete social pariah.  
He also almost rivaled my lack of baseball prowess, however he’d had one highlight reel play that season, which was one more than I’d had, unless you count non-verbally telling the third base coach to go suck an egg when he tried to make me steal.
During one of our games, this kid, who was stuck out in right field, had a white-hot line drive rocketed squarely at him. He essentially had two options on the play: either have a baseball embed itself in his nasal cavity or catch it. There wasn’t even enough time for him to completely dive out of the way.
So he did the only sensible thing: he closed his eyes, threw up his glove and somehow, perhaps through divine intervention, caught the ball.
Losing the “didn’t get yourself killed” award was where my baseball softball career ended … until now.
I’m excited for the chance to try playing ball again. I’ll probably fail, but it’ll be fun to meet some more of my new co-workers and even better, I heard the team might not be all that great anyway, so at least I won’t be ruining any dynasties.
I’ll be chronicling each embarrassment I endure right here, so be sure to check back regularly for updates.

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