I Could Have Been an All-Star. It Was the Hitting I Had a Problem With.


photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc
photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc

Cubs fans, this isn’t for you.

For the rest of the universe? Spring means hope.

Sure, baby birds are born and flowers bloom, yadda yadda. But it’s about baseball. It’s a time when your team – except for the Cubs and Astros – are still in the thick of the race. Or close enough to pretend.

Even my Rockies find themselves in that no-man’s land of “we don’t suck – right now.” It might be better than that. I’ll let you know July 4. And maybe again in October. Your baseball team not sucking makes you feel good.

So do James Earl Jones asides about baseball.

But it’s not all about the ninth-inning rally and the pennant-clinching victory. The lesson is in strapping on your jeans and swinging hard, in case you hit it. Yes, I said jeans. Stick with me here. This is a story about a boy who loves baseball.

But when he played the game? He took inadequacy to a sub-Cub level.

And still, he loves the game.

# # #

I was in fourth grade when I saw the ad.

Greeley All-Stars Baseball Tryouts. Ages 7-12.

To become a traveling all-star? A dream come true. For a 9-year-old.

I chased that dream with my K-mart baseball mitt. I wore Toughskin jeans. I carried  experience gleaned from a season with a team called the Grapes in the Weld County Park and Rec co-ed Softball league.

Mom and dad didn’t recognize my pending stardom. Or they saw the futility and wagered the $1.25 a gallon for gas to take me there in 1980 just wasn’t worth it. So, I rode my bike across town, in sneakers.

The Chicano George Brett, just waiting to happen.

baseball tommy

Oh, speaking of Chicano – I nabbed a permanent marker out of the kitchen junk drawer to try to cover up the huge K in the middle of my K-mart mitt. K-mart was for poor Mexican kids.

I was a lower-middle-class Mexican kid with white friends who’d never let him live it down if he tried out for a travel team with a K-mart baseball mitt.

I mixed in among the spitting, swinging boys, even though they had cleats and baggy baseball pants. I had jeans and sneakers. K-mart sneakers.

I took up a spot in the outfield, and even shagged a couple of fly balls. As a shortstop, though … every ball ate me up. I turned nothing, except for black and blue from balls bouncing off my body. It was OK, though.

My bat would set me apart.

I knew I could turn on a pitch or two.

I could not.

baseball ted

I swung, and missed. I swung like batters when they faced Steve Carlton in the bigs – large and desperate. Only, this was against a middle-aged man, who lofted batting practice balls. I felt the heat of eyes behind me, sensed the stifled laughs.

I had to get a hit. Just.one.

I started to foul pitches away, like a big-leaguer wasting a pitcher’s best pitches.

Only, again … just batting practice. My fouls began to soar over third base, then into left field. My groove. I choked up on the bat, gripped hard, and made even better contact. One, two, three in a row, roped to center field.

I remember it like they scorched their way over the pitcher’s mound, on fire.

The mightiest of my swings sent the ball on a friendly bounce just beyond second base. But I will always remember it like the hit on The Natural – a monster shot for the ages. I did get a hold of one.

 

baseball  yogi

Exhausted, I began to miss again. I’d immediately gone into my batting stance after every swing, perhaps afraid I’d lose my groove if I relaxed. The coaches didn’t have the heart to ask me to move on for the next kid to hit.

No one laughed out loud, but I definitely avoided contact. One coach patted me on the back and said, “good try son. We’ve got your number.”

They didn’t call, and I didn’t expect them to.

But, you know what? I did get a hold of one that day.

It kind of looked like The Natural. Kind of.

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31 Replies to “I Could Have Been an All-Star. It Was the Hitting I Had a Problem With.”

  1. Eli, god help me if I ever tried. I seriously am such a girly girl, a klutz and have no coordination. So, just love that you did give it your all and to me that is all anyone could ever ask for 🙂

    1. God probably helped me not to fare much worse that day! I just was not good at baseball, no matter how much I wanted to be.

      I left it all on the field. Kind of.

  2. So many things about this are fantastic – the marker, the jeans, the sneakers of course and I can relate – I hated even walking into the store with my parents, what if someone saw me?

    The two things that really get me: how uninvolved parents seemed to be at that time. Or unwilling to spend the time on their child’s every desire. I remember walking to and from practices, there was no chance my parents were sitting and waiting while I practiced, either. I don’t even know if they went to all of my meets or games.

    But the very best thing? You wanted something so badly, you just went ahead and did it. You did what you needed to do because you wanted to and it was important to you. That is a success all it’s own.

    1. So glad you saw those things not as products of a kid being a brat and not appreciating what he had, because really, those things are the biggest things ever to a kid.

      Do you think we’re more involved, because our parents weren’t? Or do parents just take all this so much more seriously today (and is that good or bad, or neither?)

      I really never saw it as wanting so badly I went for it. I mean, yes, I did, but until now, the story to me was “if you suck, you can still give it a shot.”

      Thanks for letting me see another side, Stephanie.

  3. I tried baseball for a season, but I was that kid picked flowers out in right field. Now soccer was the game I loved, but we didn’t have a girls’ team at my high school and the boys didn’t enjoy me being on the team. I was in love when we found a travel team near us and I could finally play my heart out!

    1. There’s always a place for the flower picker – maybe not in left field, but in life! Grace faces the same things today being on the boys’ team – and sometimes schooling them and outscoring them isn’t enough!

      So glad you found your spot though Rabia … and speaking of spots, I’m looking forward to this Wednesday!

    1. For years, I’d seen it as a foolish pursuit! Seriously, until I posted this, I didn’t see it that way, but I really was hopeful.

      You learn the most when you lose, I feel.

  4. I love springtime and the hope it brings. Don’t discount the blooming rhododendrons, rushing waterfalls, and baby ducklings, Eli. Spring is Mother Nature’s time to show off, even if she dons a cape of yellow pollen. As for televised sports, I feel like spring is the doldrums. March Madness is over and college football is still months away. But, even though I don’t really follow pro baseball, there’s nothing like taking in a live game. People watching, overpriced food, and lots of Vitamin D. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon. As for that little boy riding his bike to tryouts, I’m sure the lessons learned made the man that much wiser and stronger.

    1. Historically, spring has been a few endings for me, too. But it’s hard to deny the growth and possibility. Despite the pollen.

      I never watch baseball on TV. I do it the old-fashioned way – I watch my Rockies online. Who has time for nine innings in front of a TV?

      I need to get to the ballpark here on the next getaway day. There’s one today. Next time. I’ll bring a scorecard and go by myself, and it’ll be perfect.

      1. Baseball games are among their favorite daddy/daughter dates, especially if it involved ice cream in baseball hats and asking players in Spanish if I could have a ball for my girl. The Nashville Sounds, right? I think they sometimes played the Denver Zephyrs, the team I watched as a kid.

        They call the nosebleeds at Turner Field the “skyline seats” now. But your nose’ll still bleed.

  5. It’s interesting how times have changed. Our parents were so much less involved in our day to day lives. I rode my bike to school across busy roads and with stop lights…there’s no way I’d let my kids do that. I walked to the roller skating rink. Of course there really wasn’t that much in the way of organized sports for girls when I was young (there, I’ve revealed my age…it’s not twenty something) other than softball, and I really had no interest in that.
    Of course there are many lessons to be learned with sports, and one of them is to always try your hardest, and another is to handle disappointment. Sounds like you did both well.
    And I love James Earl Jones’ voice!

    1. Michelle, do you think we parent this way because of how detached ours were? And they didn’t even have Kindles back then.

      And I do remember there was only softball for the girls. Now look.

      I thought the coaches and players handled it well, too. They definitely could have made fun of me, but didn’t. I knew when I left I wouldn’t be an all-star. That was fine.

      I wouldn’t mind James Earl Jones doing my voicemail message. Or even Laura Linney.

      Especially Laura Linney.

  6. I’m more of the type to just..not show up. Be too afraid, K-Mart mitt or not. This is where it’s such a win. That you showed up.
    I guess I wasn’t very good at many things or just not very interested. And then when I was, so help me God was I scary.
    I used to pray during softball games. Pray to get a hit.
    I finally did get three during my LAST GAME!

  7. It’s good that you didn’t give up. I might have. I am awful with sports. I think it’s because I’m clumsy. I remember playing baseball in PE class and falling down a lot.

    1. It’s so funny, I didn’t see it that way at the time. I really thought I was going to be Dale Murphy out there. Are you still clumsy? Because I once fell in a mud puddle while jogging.

  8. I hit it out of the park all the time….. on our Wii game. ha!
    I always played 3rd base (body bag, ugh) and I think no one minded on my team that I was not a great hitter — because no one else wanted to play 3rd base. I could catch and I could throw like a boy; that saved me.
    And now I have to go watch The Natural. because of course.

    1. On the Wii, I have a sweet swing as a switch hitter, too. Does Wii baseball in Canada also have just one team?

      Like the saying goes, “God watches over drunks and third basemen.” Takes some bravery. My Rockies have a great one in the making in Nolan Arenado.

      It’s a rainy day here – it would have been perfect to stay at home and binge on baseball movies.

  9. Nothing like a great post flavored with clips from two of the best movies ever. Thanks, buddy!

    I never thought I’d be a baseball mom. I’m more of a football person but I love watching my son play ball. These 9 and 10 year old boys go out there and some have less experience, not having played since T-ball. Like my son. He’s only played two seasons so he’s still finding his groove.

    I have a point…really.

    There was a new kid on the team this season. Little Carlos. Doesn’t look a day over 7, he’s so small, and you can tell he’s never, ever played the game. He goes out there and gives it all he’s got, game after game after game. Twice, in two separate games, he had his moments. One, he caught an infield fly at second base and he raised his hands in the air like Rocky Balboa at the top of the steps. The second was this past Tuesday. He got his first hit. And it was a good one…off a good pitcher. Base hit. He got there and again, hands in the air, feet off the ground, jumping up and down. That was this kid’s Natural moment. I think the parents cheered harder for him than their own kids.

    That’s what this post reminded me of. I’m not even sure it had a point after all. Just thought I’d share 🙂

    1. Carlos! He’s my kindred spirit, if my kindred spirit could hit a fastball. The thing about baseball is every player in a lineup has his chance to hit. What becomes of that chance?

      And those are the little victories that, 20 years from now, he’ll remember. And maybe embellish when he tells his kids about them.

      And I think we don’t really know what kind of people we are until we have kids and they develop interests. I never cared for soccer. Then there was Elise.

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