When I was little I would wear my entire tball uniform on Friday nights with my dad, he would take me up Bowie, to the Baysox – he would buy the $5 ticket, and I would get in for free. I was that 5 year old kid who sat watching every inning focused, clenched, ready for the foul ball I was going to catch . . . that’s been me my whole life . . . showing up different, believing in the dream, and never letting go of it.
I have realized this in this journey . . . that those that do catch the foul balls have been to more games and don’t get so stressed out about it . . .
I think the most needed stories in our Lives comes to mind when we most need them now . . . . as this story does now. A simple memory = now a life LESSON . . . it’s taken me 30 years to just now sort of get it.
I was 4 years OLD, almost 5 . . . my dad drove me to tball practice, a boys team – they let me play because my Dad knew someone who knew someone that said they knew I could handle it or something like that . . . handle what???
My dad said a lot of obscure things to me very young like that.
I remember not being able to wait to get to bat,
I saw no gender on that diamond –
I saw no size
I saw no limits
I was sure I could hit a homerun on my first try . . .
I could do anything –
My Dad actually came with me.
I picked up my first bat and someone had me step up to the Tee, so I did . . . at 4 years old, I picked the only wooden bat someone forgot to hide away . . .
Approaching the homeplate from the home dugout leaves you to the side most can’t bat on . . . the ball was already perched right on top of the tee . . . I heard the fans clapping as I hit my home run clear round to the Hall of Fame. . . I clocked the tee, chopping it in half, the whole thing went down, as with the ball, all the boys laughing, I felt super heart beaty and hot, I felta failure inside of me. I felt I had failed someone who wasn’t even watching me.
It was this childish boy laughter that picked my head up from staring down at my stunned feet and it was then that I first realized I was the only girl out here. My coaches all the sudden become encouraging & one tried to pick me up and hug me and wipe away the tears he imagined, but I seriously wasn’t even thinking of crying . . . I was wondering why the wind didn’t help me and I hated that now the coaches were being too easy on me, my dad I saw no where, I spun around and around and I still saw him no where . . .
“Have her hit a few into the fence.” I heard him say from the cornfield beyond the single A homerun fence. No one did anything, most pretended to not hear my old man, but my Uncle Nick had come by to bring me a starcrunch snack from my Aunt Maria and some cold jugged water to drink and to watch my wind up and take that first swing.
I missed that ball clear side of tomorrow.
I heard my Uncle Nick from behind homeplate, as if he was just beside me
. . . “TURN-UP TOES TURN AROUND . . . take a few swings into the backstop . . . warm your ol’ cannon UP.”
I laughed at the nickname he gave me in embarrassment although I secretly loved it.
So I turned around, not switching sides, took the ball from the dusty ground, picked up the tee and swung round a line drive right to my Uncle Nick. It would have hit him square in the pickle if that chainlink fence wasn’t there, but it was and so I hit again and again and again. I would come to teach myself later, with practice, wehre to place that ball on the tee, depending on where I wanted it to go . . . no one questions a 4 year old girl who says “it’s dusty, let me wipe it off and put it back . . “
Secretly I was turning the laces, adjusting the weight to the line, shifting the teeball stand . . . . the beauty of creativity in a four year olds honest mind.
I turned around and looked out deep to the corn field to search for my Life’s hero and to hope and see my old man standing there, seeing me be what he wanted me to be, a swinging and a hitting & better than the boys too . . .
Well, he minus well of been picking daisies in that cornfield, for I couldn’t see him, I just saw the tips of the cornstalks swaying. Honestly, I figured he was tinkling . . . this is long before cell phones folks . . . so that’s what motivated me I thought . . . nail him right in mid stream . . . the thoughts of a 4 year old girl.
So I went a swinging and I kept hitting clear center base line drives . . . right up the middle.
I no longer heard the boys laughing at me and I left that day with a #14. No position, no rank, no name really needed . . . I had made the team.
On the car ride home, while I was eating my starcrunch my dad fumbling with the tape deck . . . that old Volvo station wagon 5 speed with airvent throttles like oreo cookies and stacks of cassette tapes straddling the parking break . . . 3 wide, 5 rowss, 2 tall. . . . there were music cassettes in the side door panels of all four doors and a shoebox in the way way back filled with ones that were taking a rest. He cued up James Taylor’s steamroller and before I heard that one word that James Taylor who never cused said, Pops said, matter of fact to the road ahead – no sign of approval nor dis of unproudness, just rather too simply and matter of fact like, “you’re a switch hitter . . . you hit that ball center 2nd base like that everytime you’ll get on first and sometimes second if you practice.”
I said nothing, I felt a failure, I feeled he knew already I’d be NO good at Ball . . . he sold me short of that homerun potential I just 10 seconds ago believed in . . .
I showed up at practice the next day with my cousin on the team I didn’t know. My Mom dropped me off at his house to ride with them, I sat at a side table in the living room all by myself while the family of four ate dinner and I watched the second hands on the mantle of the clock that ticked above it tick until finally my cousins Mom came and got me and asked if I was ready.
I was sitting there with my glove on, my baseball hat on down tight around my eyebrows, my ponytail coming out round the backside of it, it was an old foam/mesh/adjustable plastic fitting round back, I had my older brothers cleats on laced double notted, I had my Bowie Baysox left hand only batting glove in my back pocket, I watched the second hand hit the 12 . . . it was a game I was playing, counting how many times that second hand would go full round again.
I heard her echo in reality . . . “she is a funny little thing isn’t she, almost looks just like a boy, glad she already ate cause we had no chair for her at dinner.”
I heard everything she said as I counted but I pretended I was too dumb to understand our English language and she bought it. I hadn’t eaten since lunch time, a half of sandwich and a HI-C, she didn’t invite me to come round the table, my mom just dropped me off, so I sat down and waited and watched that clock tick until someone addressed me . . . .
“42!” I said outloud, by accident, and stood up. I shook my head and thought – that’s a Lucky Number i bet.
“GOODNESS GIRL, your cleats in this house – go right out that damn front door – no don’t ruin my foyer, go right to the side, damnnn it, those cleats on my new white carpet, go right out that damn garage door, follow the dog, damn it, my new carpet . . . “
I heard her daughters laughter making fun of all of me as I ran out the side door behind the dogs lead and into a garage where the garage door was just hardly opening, so I went towards it. I was ducking under the garage door lifting when I smelt smoke and I heard my cousins dad say, although I never saw his face, he was deep in the corner smoking something, I suppose a cigarette . . .
I looked back, but the garage was dark, I said nothing, it wasn’t lit and there was a car thick in the middle of it.
“#42, best damned baseball player to ever change the game.”
“Your # . . . 42 . . . it’s good luck . . . go run with it.”
“YES SIR.” I said as I sped off running, my right sweaty hand still inside of my hand me down mitt clenching tighter than never before this moment. It was a catcher’s glove my dad laughed as he gave it to me . . . it will do until I can find you an infielders glove the size of a 4 year old beecha’s hand . . . hahhah . . .
ALL I thought he meant were the infinite words of beautiful wisdom he said simply, why shouldn’t I, I trusted him; he made me . . . “this damn here glove catches everything.”
And so it did.
When you believe it,
You will see it!
Practices came and went and the summer green leaves started a changing and then falling . . . . same wooden bat, same catcher’s mitt, no cornstalks in the outfield later I struck out for 2 weeks straight, Uncle Nick never stopped coming . . . ALL 4 of my Coaches, plus the parents, were telling me how to play . . . and doing so by yelling at me.
I hated myself truly for letting down everybody. Remind you then, I was 4 years old, the only female out there fighting to protect the home plate and diamond.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it, I had one guy telling me to step into the ball, another telling me to steady, uncle nick bringing me starcrunches I didn’t deserve, I started giving them away to those that were better than me on my team, the other players, the ones that kicked sand in my eyes when I met them, the cornfields out beyond the single A homerun wall now long ago empty. The Harvest Moon had long since set and I was wearing longsleves to practice and the sun was always too soon setting, I lost my lucky baysox glove one day, it didn’t much matter – I no longer believed in it, my Dad gave it to me and he obviously lied to me about it . . . it wasn’t lucky, it didn’t have Cal Ripken Jr’s magic dust on it, it was just a loser glove he gave me because before he forgot to pretend to care. Some other old man sitting with Uncle Nick, he always made me smile when I saw him, Mister John Henry Bond –he gave me a smaller lighter bat to swing, told me he promised it work, had the fury in it, it felt cold to me, I swung it, I still couldn’t hit anything . . . I no longer believed in me.
I struck out, I never walked, and I swung harder every fucking time . . . . striking out harder and harder every fucking time. Uncle Nick said nothing to me as he drove me home every night . . . but inside I was so made at him, I wished he’d stop giving me starcrunches from Aunt Maria that I would never deserve. I would look out the window and just wish all the cornfields weren’t so empty on the drive home, but one night he drove me way past all the harvested fields of empty and I saw bright lights far ahead. The whole sky was lite up and as we drove nearer, the lights and the cheers and the cracks of the ball to the bat grew louder . . .
“Uncle Nick where are we.”
“I gots a game turnUP toes, your Moms took the rest of you hoodlims to Catholic (Catacism) School, she knows you’re here, but I can take you to Church for Jesus learning instead if you want?”
I said nothing . . . I was smiling ear to ear punching my catchers mitt with my free hand ready, I felt like George Washington Crossing the Delaware River.
I grabbed a bucket of baseballs out the back of his truck and as I stepped off the bed of his truck I fell hard, that bucket of balls weighed twice the size of me. His entire team gathered round to see this new confusion. I was laughing . . .
“She’s a switch hitter, short stop for the all boys team over at Compton, they are 8 & 0 this season, she bats 2nd, she came to watch, she’s my sisters kid, ain’t one ounce of fear in her, she’s got my ball game.”
Uncle Nick didn’t give me any instructions; I just helped him with his stuff, gave him a high five for good luck and ran to watch. I found myself sitting there with my catcher’s mitt ready, in the bleachers behind home plate, right where my uncle nick sits when he watches me, saying nothing, just feeling inside of me, I was so nervous as he stepped up to home plate. He didn’t warm up because he was too busy being with me watching me suck ass I realized . . . he was 4th to bat, bases loaded, bottom of the first inning, score 0-0, no outs . . . . damn I thought – Uncle Nick’s team are the CHAMPIONS.
He warmed up his ol’ cannon in a circle outside the dugout while the batter before him took the right handed side of the plate. Uncle Nick was swinging so slowly with the biggest bat I’ve ever seen and with two rolls of what looked like duct tape around the barrel, cept when he took the one roll of ducttape off it clunked so hard on the dirty infield it shook the ground around it, and then when he dropped the other on top of it, I’ve never heard nothing else like it, metal to metal, clinking and clunking, it sounded like heavy iron weights at a gym being thrown on top of other heavy iron weights at a gym.
Uncle Nick stepped up to the plate, knocked the bottom of his cleats with a smaller wooden and now duct-taped free bat. I liked that swag move I thought, next time I’m going to try it . . . he pinched the damp fabric sticking to his arms lightly lifted off of each of his shoulders, he swayed back and forth, he had a whole ritual and he hadn’t looked up yet, he was just studying the batter’s box, or so it seemed. He rolled his shoulders back and tipped his hat up looking back, he was looking to see if I was watching him, like I always looked to see if he was watching me, and I was. I realized as my Uncle Nick hit the first pitch straight down the middle, clocking the pitcher – the pitcher too young to have ever pitched to my Uncle Nick before right now – the ball hit the kid right in the pickle. The kid fell over, by the time the next pitcher came out the dugout Uncle Nick was on the other side of the plate, looking at me, he swung and hit himself home effortlessly, as well as 3 others . . . it was as if he was slicing the air with a butter knife, his swing went round so smoothly.
. . . he was rounding 2nd base, still looking to the outfield, almost in question, wondering if that ball was gone and him home safe or should he stay . . . He looked to the 3rd base coach who was circling home and then he looked to me . . . and he ran in hard to home.
I realized in that moment, since I had stop seeing the cornstalks rustle I had stopped turning round to see My UNCLE Nick . . .
Shame on me I thought and slumped down into my shoulders and wiggled my fingers, especially the guilty ones hiding inside of my catcher’s mitt that clearly caught NOTHING.
Uncle Nick hit home base, picked up his own bat, looked to the Ump and then up to me; I looked to him guiltily: he got it . . . . that I was sorry, and I truly was, he ran back into his teams dugout and everyone was highfiving him. The score now 4 – 0, Uncle Nick. I reached into my pocket checking, and yup, I sure did . . . I had that star crunch and I ran over without thinking and gave it to him and he laughed.
“Go give that to that man over there with the cooler and ask him to bring me over something else.” Uncle Nick told me, and so I ran as fast as I could and I did just as he told me – I did.
To this day I have no idea which is Left or Right field when looking out to it or from it, but I can always find center and short stop is my favorite, and to this day I have no idea what a switch hitter is . . . LoL . . . wait, well not anymore . . . I just like totes googled it whew . . . . I am not gay . . . I was always worried I was . . . but now I realize it’s just how much sports has confused me in normal life, LOL.
I learned that night that
Uncle Nick played just like me,
I played just like Uncle Nick . . .
We didn’t talk about it –
He didn’t instruct me . . .
We both together to one another games we went.
THANKS AUNT MARIA!!!!
Everyone would bring Uncle Nick red and white cans of super power after his homeruns that foamed when they opened them . . . just like my root beer did, coOOOL, my Uncle Nick hits homeruns and drinks soda and he is cool man, and he never yells at me, and at the end of his 4 runs in, his GRANDSLAMS, his team brings him a whole barrel he drinks straight from . . . Grandslams must make people really thirsty I thought . . . I can’t wait to hit me a grandslam.
From that day forward I had runs and rbi’s every game, they settled me at the shortstop, I still had that catchers mitt my dad promised I’d have for only that first day of practice, but I didn’t mind so much anymore – because it caught everything. So simple the game is when you don’t know any of it. I made the all boys all star tball game for 5 & unders at age 4. All I remembered now was no longer the emptiness of the outfield that once rustled with wander, but rather the man that sat behind me drinking a red and white can talking to John Henry and believing. That man that said no thing one way or the other when I struck out or hit a home run, it was this man that I turned round back and looked to for the answer . . . he said so much by just being there.
Presence makes one believe in them.
The last time I saw my Uncle Nick was this past Easter. I played him at Cornhole in a dress and I sent him home drinking his Budweiser . . . I’m still doing my victory dance in my then cowgirl boots . . . come NOW uncle Nick round Thanksgiving; we gots a rematch. Oh it’s Thanksgiving which means football which reminds me of that anniversary party at Church we snuck 10 other kids round back for barefoot with a football . . .
OHH my, look at the time – the hour – it’s too late now . . . . that story is for another day . . . another time . . . another life lesson in sports I learned by experience.
Experiences teach more than instructions I now realize . . . and in this, I can’t wait to get up and experience another beautiful day.
I love you Dad – you make me see the impossible far fetched future a shaking in this corn stalks, I love You Uncle Nick – you make me see in me.
I think i might go to a Dodgers game this week with my baseball glove and start waiting to catch that foul ball i can take home with, to remember Jackie Robinson . . . best basketball player ever, he was – out of UCLA.