June 29, 2008

The Allure of Baseball

I suppose that quite a few children dream about growing up to become a professional athlete. I know that I did. For many years I had a fantasy that I would one day play left or center field for the L.A. Dodgers.

As a child it didn't seem to be too far fetched, it was a dream that was within reach. For many years I was among the best baseball players within my age groups, or so I was always told. It is kind of funny to look back and wonder about whether I was being told the truth or fed a line.

Memories have a funny way of adapting them to what you want them to be. When I think back upon those days here is what I know to be true. I had a very strong arm and good enough fielding skills that I was always placed in the outfield. Coach usually had me bat somewhere between third and fifth in the lineup.

When I was 12 years-old I led the league in homeruns, threw out two runners at the plate (from centerfield) and had a host of other cool things I could mention. All of this in conjunction with many years of playing ball that preceded this convinced me that I was probably going to make the majors.

I can't recall my parents or any adult in my family telling me that they expected me to make it. I don't really remember them splashing cold water on the dream either. So for a while I just played and imagined/expected that magically I'd find myself in the big leagues.

Somewhere during those awkward middle school/junior high years I began to learn that I wasn't as good a player as I had thought. Flipped into a bigger pool of competitors I found myself playing with guys who could hit it as far and or throw it farther. I ran fast, but they ran faster.

I was undaunted by this. Baseball players didn't have to be huge or tall like football and basketball players. I was of average size so this made me more comfortable. It also helped that I won most wrestling matches. Don't ask me how or why that is applicable, it is the logic of a child.

It is like asking that crazy chick from the midwest why she thought Culture Club would come play at her Bat Mitzvah. Sometimes you just do things and hope that they work.

When I think back on those days I remember so many things. One of those is how many stats I could recite. Now baseball lends itself to statistics. There are so many things that are measured, batting average, runs, RBIs, strikeouts, wins, losses, etc. I used to be able to rattle off all of those numbers about my team.

Even today I still have a pretty good grip on it, but not like I used to. It bothers me a little that I can't do it like I used to. I feel like I lost a little something.

But the sad truth is that my love for baseball seems to have diminished a bit. I don't seem to enjoy it the way that I used to, or maybe it is just that there are so many other things in my life that require my attention.

Every now and then I find myself playing softball with the guys. I still love the feeling I get when I run out on the field. I still get a charge out of that. I remember a few years back playing in a game when I really embarrassed myself.

During my first at-bat the shortstop shouted for everyone in the outfield to move back. My ego, duly stroked, compensated by taking a mighty swing at the first pitch. I was so ready for that ball, I was going to crush it. One little flick and I could send it right over their heads. It was so easy to see.

In my mind I planned on smacking it right over the left fielder's head. During my second at-bat I figured that I'd fool them by dropping the ball right in front of them. I felt so smug and self-confident. I am sure that I must have been smiling.

And then I took that swing and missed. I swung so hard that I suspect their might have been a sonic boom, or maybe that is the sound that all that blood rushing to my head made. I swung so hard I spun in a circle, but at least I didn't fall.

Duly chastened I fouled off the next two pitches and then hit a lazy flyball that was easily caught by the left fielder. I singled the next two time I was up and then lightening struck. Bam!!!

Fourth time at the plate, I was finally relaxed and just playing and that is when I smacked a ball into next week. It happened because I wasn't trying to kill it. All I did was go up and take a good lick.

It is funny, as I sit here typing I look at myself and see a guy who didn't get to live out that dream...yet. I still feel like I have a shot. Even though I know that a 39 year-old who hasn't played organized ball in more than 20 years is probably not the best candidate, I have this feeling.

Want to know a secret? I still feel like I could play special teams in the NFL. It is ridiculous to consider myself to be a full time player, but special teams, well you just never know. I bet that I can still beat the hell out of a kicker.

And now if you'll excuse me I think that I am going to go see what I need to do to try out for the Raiders. Or maybe, just maybe I may set my sights a bit lower and shoot for a college team. I still have four years of eligibility. You never know, guys older than I am have done it.

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