Friday, August 4, 2006

Why I Love Baseball

When I was a kid, I wasn't in the "popular crowd." I got bullied a lot, and while I was a good kid, I got made fun of quite a bit. I was a little pudgy, not very athletic, and didn't have a lot of the qualities that kids admire. So I was an easy target when I started playing minor league baseball when I was eight years old.

Like when I started playing football in high school, I didn't know anything about baseball. The only reason I started was because that was what kids in my neighborhood did. I asked my dad what position he played when he was a kid and he told me shortstop. When they asked me what position I wanted to play, I said shortstop because it was the only position I knew besides pitcher.

Minor league was a joke for three years. Our team did well, and we had a wonderful time--but when it was over I still sucked. Because of my age, I moved up into Little League, and again was on a championship team. I had moved to first base by this point because I couldn't throw, and just kind of averaged out over the three years I was there. In the winter and spring before the last year of Little League, however, something changed.

I got bigger.

The largest set of pants they had for uniforms was too small for me. I still wasn't very popular, my confidence was still low, and as I stepped up to the plate on May 5th, 1985, I was starting out my last season of Little League in pretty much the same spot I had been in for five years.

There were two outs, and we were playing one of the best teams in the league. The bases were loaded and, since I was still afraid of the baseball flying by me, I quickly loaded the count up. I remember looking at that kid on third base cheering and clapping for me to just hit the ball. The pitcher wound up and threw, I swung at the ball and connected. The ball took off like I had never hit anything before in my life. Before I got to first base I started pulling a Carlton Fisk waving the ball to go further. I didn't need to.

Grand Slam Home Run.

The next few months were a dream for a kid. Almost every time I got up to bat I hit a home run. I was dating a girl (as much as a 13 year old could date a girl) that worked in the announcer's booth behind home plate and I remember pointing at her one time that I got up and mouthing "for you" right before I crushed one out. I did it again on my next at bat. It was amazing. I wasn't voted onto the all-star team, since I still wasn't in the popular crowd. The league coaches took care of that and put me on the team anyway.

At the end of the season we made the playoffs, like we always did, and were looking to repeat as champs. Mid-way through the playoffs a kid hit a little blooper to me at first base. I dove for the ball and made an unbelievable catch in the infield grass, my full weight driving the ball in the glove into the ground. It hurt my hand like hell. I was up next and hit another home run. When we went back out into the field I went to put my glove on and squeezed it. I almost passed out from the pain. Within a few minutes I felt like I was going to throw up and my Dad told me he thought I was going into shock. We rushed to the hospital.

My hand was fractured. The season was over.

This was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my young life. Since we didn't have a backup first baseman, every hit the opposing team got for the rest of the playoffs landed the batter on first base since the kid who took my position couldn't catch. The team never made it out of that round and we lost.

By the end of the summer my family had moved out of the city and on with life. I tried out for Babe Ruth level baseball but was back to square one since I was the same size as everyone else. I played that season and never put on a uniform again.

The summer of 1985 will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was my first moment of actually being good at something. From that point on I had confidence in what I was doing, and it directly led to me succeeding in other areas of life. I still have that baseball, and carry it in my helmet bag whenever I fly, next to a velvet bag that holds my grandfather's ashes. Every major success that I've experienced in my life is written on that ball, and there isn't much room left to write any more.

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