One of my favorite things to do was play baseball with the kids.
When I was a mascot for the local team, I got to do a lot of that. Many of the players on the field were playing for their lives: if you’re not a top prospect in the trenches of A+ minor league baseball, sometimes only a hair of ability and a pinch of luck are all you’ll have to cling onto as you play your fading youth away in front of an equally fading group of local septuagenarians. Every evening around 7:00, they emerge from their cozy bungalows on the edge of Florida’s Suncoast to soak in one of the last small town traditions that can still bring half of America to the edge of their metallic bleacher seats.
While those players hit and caught and threw and tagged and ran and won and lost and lived and died, I had my own past time underneath the first base seats. A stick ball game with kids, usually in elementary school and especially competitive in middle school.
Before my nightly ill-fated race from first to third after the bottom of the second, I stepped up to home plate: a point where three cracks met in the cement on the empty concourse floor. I pretended I was a right handed Carlos Pena, aligning the middle of my strike zone with three subtle whiffs of my plastic bat. Strike one.
I always swung at the first pitch. I was a notoriously easy out.
Strike two, looking.
I make a faux argument with the oldest boy there, the de facto umpire among the bunch. Chest bumping might ensue, but this ritual is less formal than the event taking place on the field 50 feet away. Anyway, they don’t have the gall to eject me. I practically own the place.
I dig into the cement below me. That’s it, I think: “I haven’t got time for this. Plus, you are just a bunch of kids.”
With my four fingers of blue fur, I grip the yellow bat that somehow slipped past the elderly security guard at the front gate, and I point it skyward. I have a similar diet to that of the Babe, and he could pull it off. So why not me?
The all-time pitcher winds up, apparently oblivious to the fact that there is no solid wall behind me. If his pitch makes it past my mighty bat, it winds up in the grass lot to the west of the ballpark. He doesn’t care.
The pitch comes. It is damned hard to see through my black mesh mask. The ball’s even harder to see a second after my bat swings through the encroaching bogey and sends it careening off of the underside of the first base bleachers.
I take two victory laps: one around the closed concessions stand that witnessed the mascot miracle, and one from first to third in my obligatory losing bid in the race between the second and third innings.
I lost every single race against a child I ever ran. But no loss can erase the fun I had standing tall over Dunedin’s own field of dreams.
One of my favorite things to do was play baseball with the kids.comment (0)
In the years since my temperamental adolescence, I’ve developed the unique ability to not get emotional over anything. Well, almost anything. For some reason, the majority of my adult life has been spent nurturing deep-seated and irrational emotional devotion to baseball. Does this mean I’m broken? Or does it mean that I’m functioning really, really properly?
Tonight, the (Devil) Rays lost their playoff series to the Texas Rangers. I can sit here and blame the absurdly terrible umpiring, the fact that our hitting coach is incapable, or the fact that we started Kelly Shoppach at catcher for this, the most important game of the year. And I did all of these things until five minutes ago. Five minutes ago, I shaved my playoff beard.
It wasn’t as gnarly as the 2008 incarnation, but it was there. I woke up with it, thought about how much it itched all day, and I went to sleep with it only to repeat the cycle again and again. When I scratched it, I thought about how much I love my team – twelve times every minute. I can’t be sure, but when we’d make an error or strike out looking or get hosed on an iffy call, I think I felt my follicles trying extra hard to push the strands out. I was so attached.
I shaved, and now I feel nothing but sadness.
The same thing happened in 2008: Eric Hinske struck out; Brad Lidge dropped to his knees; and I, feeling a whirlwind of emotions that ran the gamut from despair to pride to disbelief, walked to the bathroom and eliminated the facial project I had worked on for nearly a month. But after the whirlwind had died down, there was only one feeling left to feel. It’s the same one I feel now.
I realize that this is neither encouraged nor healthy, but I think that’s what’s so special about baseball. Five years ago, I was just a kid in high school who fooled himself into rooting for a ragtag bunch of losers. Today, I’m a kid in graduate school who fooled himself into rooting for a scrappy bunch of (almost) winners. And next year, I will fool myself into rooting for the boys – my boys – because that’s what needs to be done.
Maybe it’s not only sadness I feel. Maybe the time I spent shaving alone in the silence of my own locker room let me gain a bit of perspective. No, it’s not only sadness: it’s got a twist of hope with a dash of excitement and a whole lot of pride. Yeah, that’s it.
Go Rays.comments (2)
Awesome: Pitchmen on the Discovery Channel. Just in case 30 seconds of Billy Mays screaming at the top of his lungs and smiling like a forty-something housewife at a Botox treatment is just too short a time to fully appreciate his greatness, this is for you. And he’s based out of Tampa, which makes it the second ridiculous show like that to come about in my backyard, after the short but hilariously ill-fated Hogan Knows Best.
Not Awesome: Daytona Cubs Centerfielder Anthony Campana. Ian and I went out to the Clearwater Threshers game last night, and after 13 and a half innings, the score was tied. After walking two batters to load the bases with one out, Clearwater’s Fidel Hernandez flied out to centerfield, where Campana did a double-pump and never even parted with the ball, allowing the man on third to tag up, score and win the game. I know this isn’t particularly interesting, but I looked and there doesn’t seem to be a formal account of Campana’s epic failure on the Internet. I just feel that this should be documented lest he ever become anything in the realm of baseball.comments (2)
Ah, it has been four months too long. Not going to dwell on the splendor that Spring Training brings since I’m sure everyone knows my thoughts on that by now, but I just wanted to point out that this photo is awesome:comment (0)
I hate how this has largely become a photo blog. Hopefully I will find time to write more in the coming months.comment (1)