You Don’t Become A Baseball Player By Putting On A Uniform
Posted: February 22, 2012 Filed under: favorites, Getting older | Tags: baseball, Chain-link fencing, family, fathers, fathers and son, Little League, postaweek
Yesterday, February 21, was my dad’s birthday. I thought a lot about writing a tale about him, but just couldn’t settle on one in time to get it done. Late in the day I remembered a comment he left on a post that I wrote last week. So here, in tribute to my father, is the true tale of that one Little League at bat he still talks about.
I love baseball. Always have. Always will.
Baseball Field (Photo credit: howsmyliving)
I’ve never been especially good at it. I never threw particularly well. I could field adequately, but I wasn’t all that fast. The one thing I knew I could do was hit. I didn’t hit the long ball, but I could get myself on base. When I was old enough to try out for Little League, I was there and I made the team. I always made the team. That’s where I’d hit the wall.
I made the team, I had a uniform, I went to practice and I showed up for the games. I usually didn’t make it into the games. I’d go on the field for pregame drills. Sometimes I’d get the catcher’s mitt and warm up whatever pitcher the coach was going to put in the game next. A few times he’d send me out to be the third base coach.
Late in my first season on the team, I’m thinking it was the last game, I made it on the field. A long fly ball came out to me in right field. I dropped it. I was back on the bench the next inning. I still loved baseball. I came back the next season.
Some Things Never Change
And the season after that next one, I came back for that one too. I still wasn’t playing. I loved the game, but I started to get frustrated. I’d get in a game occasionally, if the occasion was that the game was out of reach. Batting was out of the question.
I griped to my dad on the way home from another game where he’d rushed home from work to watch me sit on the bench. He let me rant for a bit, then he passed on a lesson that I still carry with me:
- No one knows what you want unless you tell them.
- You don’t become a baseball player by putting on a uniform.
- Show or tell people what your goal is, then hustle to show them you mean it.
I thought about what he said, then I called the coach and told him I wanted to play the next week. I went to practice and worked hard. I made sure the coach saw me.
The Day Comes
The next game started with me on the bench and my parents in their usual spot, waiting. I was pretty sure that my dad’s lesson hadn’t worked. But then, it happened.
“Get a bat.” I’d heard him say that to other kids so often that I didn’t even look up. It wasn’t until the coach swatted me on the bill of my cap that I realized he was talking to me. I got a bat. I took a few practice swings. I looked over at my folks. I had a uniform, and I was a baseball player.
The umpire looked over and I walked up to the plate.
The Sort Of, But Not Totally, Miraculous End Of The Tale
My dad and I agree on the start of the end of the story. I stood in the batter’s box. The pitcher wound up and threw the ball my way. I stepped in to the pitch and swung the bat. The ball took off. It sailed down the left field line, it climbed and climbed. I watched it for a moment, not because I was trying to show off. It was because I couldn’t believe what was happening.
My father tells the story with the ball going over the fence, me rounding the bases and returning to the bench. There’s a lot of truth in that version and it is how he remembers it.
I started running as the ball sailed toward the left field fence. I was certain it was going to clear the fence and be a home run. The outfielder had turned and started back toward the fence, but he was trotting. He was certain it was gone too. He was wrong.
The ball came down as it reached the chain link outfield fence. A metallic sound rang out as the ball hit the metal tube that formed the top of the fence. The ball popped into the air.
It landed back in the field of play. It didn’t clear the fence for a home run. It was a live ball. Because the left fielder and I were so sure that I’d hit a home run, neither of us were hustling. He’d stopped running; I was in the home run trot I’d waited twelve years for. When the ball landed back in the field we both started running hard. I reached third base with a head first slide. The next batter singled and I scored.
Like dad said, I went back to the bench and sat right back down. I didn’t get to play the next game.
But I always remember that no one ever became a baseball player by putting on a uniform. Like a lot of other things he’s told me, it’s served me well.
It was sort of like this, except for the whole going over the fence thing. Also, Redford’s swing is awful throughout the entire film. And I’m not left-handed. Oh yeah, and Randy Newman’s soundtrack music is fantastic.
So it was more like Carlton Fisk in ’75 – ripped down the left field line. We both kept it just inside the foul pole, but he didn’t get to do a head first slide.