This is a small memory….but one I’ve never forgot.
As kids we played a lot of baseball. A lot of baseball. Did we have organized leagues with adult supervision? Hell, no! Kids vs kids….we taught ourselves. And I’m certain we would have pounded the snot of formal little league teams; we played with a viciousness more associated with 19th century baseball than the polite sport we play today. By practice and constant reading we learned how to play the game right; bunting, baserunning, hitting the cut off man with throws from the outfield, reading pitches….if you didn’t learn this stuff you didn’t play. As a kid I had a good arm, so I played 3rd, right field, and would often pitch. I loved to pitch, but wasn’t very good at it because of control. And what we used to do as pitchers! Everything today that would be heavily frowned on! Breaking pitches, goofy curves, evil, evil, evil screwballs; I wonder how many of our pitchers wound up with messed up arms. Screwballs were the worst; you rotate your arm in the opposite direction of what is natural to get the strange break. I remember pitching 2 9 inning games one hot day and the next day my arm and shoulder were so sore it hurt to comb my hair. I lost track of the number of kids I hit in the head or ribs trying to pitch inside.
But this story is not about my numerous poor efforts on the mound; it’s about hitting. For years I used a thick handled 44 oz “Harry Heilmann” bat that didn’t have a knob on the end of it. I had to make a knob out of electrical tape! But that day….I had saved my pennies and bought a 32 oz slim-handled “Hank Aaron”. It felt like I was swinging a wiffle bat! I was ready to rip!
There was a big kid whose name I’ve forgotten who used to get me out all the time. I just couldn’t “read” him; I couldn’t tell his fastball from his curve or slider based on his release and I’d usually guess wrong. But with my new quick bat, I was seeing and guessing a lot better!
And then he threw me the pitch I’ve never forgot….I saw it before his hand came over the top of his shoulder and I said in my own voice in my head, “Well…there’s a nice fastball!” Almost 50 years later I can still hear and see that memory like it just happened. I could see the spin and the name of the league president on the ball as it headed plateward. Everything mechanical in my body “knew” what to do and I absolutely powered that baseball. The center fielder took two steps back and conceded it was way past him into the HR area. No showboating; I put my head down and ran out the HR. That pitcher gave me a lot of respect after that; he didn’t think I could do that to his pitches.
How many such little tiny victories do we get in life? The sublime melding of skills, opportunity, execution….it’s what we want in so many ways and never get. Something is usually missing. My whole life seems to me like a Wagnerian opera of failure; just when I think I couldn’t be stupider I prove myself wrong. But that day…..that at bat….that I’ll always remember. I suspect this is closer to the way we experience joy in sports than winning The Big Game, or The Championship.