I just finished reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach; it’s about baseball, but really about life. Also, Father’s Day is next week and my head is flooded with great memories of my dad. So that’s the genesis of this post. My next post will focus specifically on Harbach’s book; I really liked it!
Baseball and I have a rocky relationship. When I was a kid, I used to play on a makeshift neighborhood team that would meet in the field across the street from my home. Here’s the scenario:
- I was the only girl and always the last one picked.
- When I got up at bat, I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it.
- Louie, Tommy, Gary or Bugsy would pitch the ball. I’d swing madly and furiously…and miss. “Strike One.”
- Another pitch, same result except it was “Strike Two.”
- The third pitch arrived, and you guessed it, “Strike Three, You’re OUT”.
All I heard was that I was “out”, and I thought it meant I was thrown out of the game (again more evidence of my complete lack of understanding). I immediately ran home in tears. The boys didn’t know quite what to do. They scratched their heads, or whatever, and continued to play.
My red eyes and sad face were noticed by my dad who asked what was up. He wisely asked me to tell him EXACTLY what happened, including quotes from the boys. After my muddled explanation, his green eyes lit up in laughter, “Oh, you struck out!” I immediately replied, “Dad, I didn’t strike anyone—they threw me out because I can’t hit the ball.” He explained that “OUT” was not expulsion. This episode began my new relationship with the game.
Dad grabbed a wiffle ball and bat and for weeks he taught me not to make a fool of myself on the diamond. In the backyard, where no one could see me, he pitched and coached me until I could hit and sometimes even catch the ball. He was a determined, hopeful, kind soul.
Thereafter I could count on hitting the ball most of the time. The boys let me play, and I wasn’t the last one picked any more. Years later, an organization of New England Commercial Real Estate professionals held its annual picnic at a woodsy country club and thought it would be a great idea if we had a friendly game of softball. I thought I was going to die… play ball with all of these folks I did business with on a regular basis. Oh, the potential embarrassment and indignity of it all. If I refused, I looked like a prissy sissy. If I struck out, I looked like a fool.
So, this time, my patient husband (the physicist) held practice sessions in the back yard. He talked about the trajectory and the angles and the spin of the ball. I just wanted to hit the damn thing and run like hell. It all worked out well. I hit a home run; everyone was shocked. This kid finally got to feel the thrill of the bat and ball connecting and having everyone look up to the sky.
Everybody always cries when they strike out for the first time. It’s good to remember every now and then that all those pro players were little babies themselves at one point.