“You throw like a girl.”
I had that line hurled at me more than a few times during my rookie Little League season as a 9-year-old that also happened to be my final season.
I wasn’t insulted. I viewed it as a compliment
The reason was simple. I wished I could throw like a girl. Rarely would the ball leave my hand without immediately starting a downward path as if my intent was to try to bean some hopeless ant scurrying across the ground.
My excursion into the realm of character building via on-field game-day humiliation at the tongues of adult spectators started back in January of 1965. My friends were all signing up to play Little League and so I thought I should too.
My Mom knew exactly what I was in for and simply said “we’ll see about that.” Years later, I figured she was probably hoping I’d forget about it and move onto something else. It wasn’t a bad strategy given she had seen me in all of my athletic glory from my tendency to run into things, needing to use bicycle training wheels until I was 6 years-old, and having the hands-eye coordination on par with a dinosaur trying to thread a needle. But only as a 9-year-old can I knew in my heart I could play baseball so I kept pestering mom.
Finally, she gave in with one condition: No matter what happened I had to stick it out for the entire season.
To say I was the worst kid on the team would be the Mother of All Understatements.
I played on the Indians — a team name that clearly set me on a lifetime path of political incorrectness. The coach was a man named Chuck. He either was the world’s most understanding adult or else figured a year of trying to coach me would qualify him for sainthood. The team manager was actually a pastor, Charles Kellar. It explained why he had the patience of Job and then some when it came to trying to teach me how to throw, catch, hit, and run. Yes, I said run. Seeing me trying to run would make you think Jerry Lewis and Steve Martin had the grace and explosive speed of Usain Bolt. I wish I was kidding when I said a good practice meant I only tripped over my feet twice.
My strong suit was fielding grounders. About one out of every 10 times I was actually able to make contact with the ball. My glove could have been made out of Velcro and it still wouldn’t have improved my fielding percentage.
Catching was an entirely different ball game. My first pair of glasses at 5 years of age were bifocals. It wasn’t until then that I was able to go up the backstairs without slamming into the railing. Trying to catch a small object flying through the sky toward me at 40 mph would be akin with anyone else trying to catch a hummingbird jacked up on Red Bull. It just isn’t going to happen. I remember coming close one time, but that was it.
As for my batting, if they had T-Ball back then I still would have struck out. I realized after two weeks of practice that I wasn’t any good. That didn’t matter to the other kids. It was all about fun. As for the coach and manager they never raised their voices but I’m sure they considered slamming their heads against a wall or two.
Back then, there wasn’t a hard fast rule that every kid had to play a set amount of time. I do not recall how many league games we played but I do know I took the field four times and never for more than one inning at a time. That was fine with me. I considered it the mercy rule.
The Indians didn’t win a lot of games. I got called off the bench when it was the last inning and the kid hanging the metal sheets inscribed with numbers on the scoreboard was getting tennis elbow from having to switch out numbers so often for our opponents.
Coach would send me to right field. I didn’t know it at the time but years later I realized he tried to play me when the other team’s left-handed batters were done at the plate. His strategy was foiled one game when a kid tried to be a switch hitter. To my horror, he connected with the pitch. I heard my name yelled along with advice that it was coming my way. I put my glove up and madly scanned the sky for the ball praying that I’d at least come within a mile of it.
It fell 15 feet in front of me. I dove in a desperate attempt to catch it. The first baseman, realizing I didn’t catch it, made a mad dash for the ball that was still rolling toward me where I had done a face plant. I struggled to get up, started running, and tripped.
I got back up again and started running toward the ball just as the first baseman picked it up. As he was throwing it toward third, I slammed into him. That was my one and only defensive play in my Little League career.
Offensively, I never reached base. You couldn’t tell, though, during the last game I played in where instead of just swinging at air I connected for a foul ball that rolled perhaps 10 feet. My coach went crazy. You’d have thought I had just parked a grand slam.
What a way to end my baseball career!
It was then that I realized what Little League was really about.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.