Saturday, 28 April 2018

On Baseball

When I was a kid, while all other guys played football, and being somewhat of a non-conformist from an early age, I preferred baseball. 

I'm not sure what the attraction was for that American sport - maybe watching too much TV had a lot to do with it - but it was something about batter versus pitcher mano a mano in the diamond, the crack of a homer in the midst of a silent expectant crowd, which seemed much more alluring than a team of guys versus another team of guys on a muddy pitch kicking a ball around.

Plus, I was rubbish at football. 



I was rubbish at baseball too, but because it wasn't that popular in Scotland my rubbishness could remain undiscovered posing as unreleased exotic American potential, rather than out-in-the-open Scottish rubbishness that was clear to everyone.

Being the only kid interested in baseball in my house, street, town, country meant two things: 1) I was quite good (to my limited knowledge and in my limited circle) and 2) I had no-one to play baseball with. I think this must be the lazy person's fast track to excellence - choose something that absolutely no-one else does - and I realise now it's been a subconscious philosophy of mine from an early age. Explains why I'm not really good at anything.

So to practise I experimented with Swingball. Many long minutes over two or three afternoons per season I spent in the back garden trying to hit the swinging ball round and round with my homemade baseball bat. 

That was hard. 

It's difficult enough to hit a normal pitch from a guy you can see straight ahead of you, but to hit a ball that's unnaturally swooshing round anticlockwise is another kettle of octopi altogether. You'd think it might make me better at hitting curveballs. I don't know, I've never found myself up against someone who could throw one.

One day, in a sports shop, I bought a full-size adult baseball bat that had "Louisville Slugger" printed wonderfully on it which I could hardly swing. But I loved that bat. 

It's funny, baseball is so popular in countries like America and Japan, that it's fine to walk around with a baseball bat because it's clearly a sport accessory. Not so in Scotland. You can't really wander down the shops swinging a baseball bat around. You'll end up with your head bashed in.

Fast forward thirty years. 

I still have that Louisville Slugger baseball bat, and now two catcher's mitts that a good friend gave me in Japan to go with it, and a kid to play baseball with. 

One becomes two.

The bat is too big for my son to swing, so we got him a smaller bat and a couple of small, soft practice balls from ToysRUs. So just to get him out the house on these long Scottish summer evenings we went to the local playpark. To warm up we practise throwing and catching and do some stretches. Then we assign some bases and take turns pitching and batting. His pitching is better than mine because of his snowball throwing over the winter. 

Then they refurbished the local playpark so there's more play and less park, so we go instead to the enclosed sandy football pitch nearby, which is actually much better, because in the park whenever one of us missed the ball it went out through the railings, but the football pitch is fully enclosed with wooden boards and high chain link fence so the ball just bounces right back. We take plastic plant pots filled with stones to act as bases, and a couple more gloves just in case other kids want to join us.

On Sunday just gone we went up to the football pitch and had a practice, but I wasn't really in the mood and I think it showed. I'm a good bit older and slower now, and my energy levels have become unreliable, but it was good to get the kid out the house for a few, so I pressed on. 

When I was pitching I threw one overarm (which he preferred) and inadvertently hit him on the body. The balls we use, as I said, are a bit softer but still probably hurt a bit more than a snowball. I apologised and a few shots later hit him again. Things weren't going well. He looked hurt but he was holding back tears.

Time went on and it was getting close to hometime. He pitched a good one to me and I hit it a cracker and dropped the bat to run while he turned and went after the ball. But to give him a chance and to try and cheer him up a bit I ran in slow motion round the bases while he ran up behind me with the ball, laughing, to get me out.

Ha ha! I've done it, I thought, my dad skills are awesome.

And then somehow elbowed him in the teeth.

That busted the dam and the tears flowed, and the phrase I'd sensed was coming but dreaded nonetheless : "Let's not play baseball again."

We walked home slowly, together but apart, and he went into the house and I stayed outside to see if having another go at painting the fence would dispel the large rain-filled cloud of shit fatherness in which I'd found myself.

The baseball holdall was relegated to the dusty darkness behind the sofa.

A few days after that it was a sunny day after school. He comes home and says the phrase I'd been hoping for but not expecting: "Dad, do you want to play baseball?"

So we packed up the baseball bag and made our way up to the football pitch, passing the playpark, where four little kids were playing.

"Where you going?"

"We're going to play baseball."

"Can we come?"

So now I'm teaching four kids how baseball works. We warm up by practising throwing and catching round the bases, and then move to pitching and batting. I realise that one of the kids is the one who punched out one of my son's baby teeth many years ago, and who had joined us once last year for some baseball practice. He was getting pretty good.

Two days later the doorbell goes.

"Who is it?"

"It's X and Y, asking if we want to go and play baseball."

Two become four.

I smile inside. 

But with a straight face I say what my kid was probably both expecting and dreading to hear.

"No. Homework first."


© Chris Young 2018
Image Credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseball_(ball)

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