The aborted pursuit of Little League glory

Baseball is the greatest sport of all time. If you say football, I will fight you. (And you’ll probably win because you played football). Hey—OUCH!—my fingers don’t bend like that! Fine, football is better!

This is not off to a good start. Goddamn football players.

Anyway, baseball is one of the greatest sports of all time. Some of my most vivid childhood memories come from the warm summer evenings I spent stepping up to the big white dish with a bat in my hand and a chip on my shoulder, sucking the delicious scent of fresh-cut grass through my nostrils, staring at a gawky pitcher in a bright red jersey, noticing all the other kids behind him in bright red jerseys, and running back to the dugout crying because they were all looking at me.

I’ve often wondered what it was like to be the proverbial King of the Diamond. I don’t mean going pro. The odds of even the most elite college players making careers out of throwing, catching, pitching, and hitting are astronomical. But, like, everyone’s good in Little League at least. Aren’t they?  

I wasn’t. I was the chunky, uncoordinated kid that the more athletic and popular kids on the field said mean things about when he came to the plate. Things like, “Easy out,” or, “Move in,” or, “His mom should’ve swallowed.” The players on the opposing teams talked shit, too.

I struck out a lot (like, every time). I couldn’t catch a fly ball. I threw weird—not quite like a girl, but not also quite like a boy. I didn’t know how to run the bases because I never got the chance to. The bench and my butt were well-acquainted, and deservedly so; I just didn’t have the natural talent a lot of boys and girls did.

But then I grew up. I got bigger, faster, stronger than your average Little League baseball player. By the time I was twenty-seven, I could throw harder than a nine-year-old and hit farther than a twelve-year-old. I wanted to give it another shot. But life got in the way. A marriage, a divorce, five jobs, and fifty pounds later, I was suddenly forty. My back ached, my ankle always cracked for some reason, and I was well past my athletic prime, but the dream had never died. And I was pretty sure I could still hit farther than a twelve-year-old. Or, at the very least, an eleven-year-old.  

So I went to Little League try-outs.

Making my own opportunity

I was so excited, I don’t even remember the drive to the field; I only recall the warm, sunny feeling that filled my veins when I stepped out of the car. There were kids everywhere, throwing the ball, swinging the bat, running, laughing, playing the great game of baseball, and loving their lives. Coaches were sipping their early-morning coffees and pointing groups of eager fielders toward fences, teaching newbies how to hold the bat, instructing baserunning drills, and tossing round after round of batting practice. It was a lively scene, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

“Which one of these guys is yours?” said a voice from over my shoulder. It someone’s dad I guess, but he had a flat-brimmed hat cocked to the side, an all-black tank top, and checkered cargo shorts from Old Navy or something.

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t have a kid here.”

“My bad,” he said. “Which team do you coach?”

“Um…” my eyes began darting back and forth as it suddenly occurred to me how disquieting it could appear for a 40-year-old man to show up at a field full of boys in tight pants. Especially because my own tight pants were way too small and the top half of my butt crack was peeking out from underneath the back of my Wayne’s World shirt.

“If you’re not a parent, and you’re not a coach,” Flat-Brimmed Hat Guy quipped, “then what the hell are you doing here?”

“I just—” I didn’t want to say it, but there was no other explanation. “I came to try out for the team.”

He looked confused for some reason. “This is for twelve-year-olds, dude. What are you, like, thirty?”

“Aww,” I said with a heartfelt smile. “Thank you for the compliment. I’m actually forty!”  

“Get the fuck off this field,” he said with a sudden animosity that caught me off guard. He’d seemed like such a nice young man before.

“Look, I just want to take some batting practice, maybe throw a few pitches, see what I’ve got in the tank,” I said. “If I’m not as good as the other boys—”

“YOU’RE NOT A BOY,” he barked as he puffed out his chest and took a couple steps toward me. “Now leave before I call the cops.”

“Can I just show you my knuckle-curve?”

“I’m ‘bout to show you my knuckle SANDWICH, bud.” And with that, he lunged at me with fire in his eyes. I ducked his initial swipe, and then I began to flee.

I ran toward the dugout, and small children in oversized ballcaps retreated in every direction. I ran toward the snack bar, and mothers with curly hair and bad knees hid behind the ice machine. I ran toward the backstop, and coaches with dad bods and underdeveloped mustaches threw stinky baseball gloves at me.

But then, in that moment, I saw an opportunity. With a muscle-shirted, flat-brim-hatted dad hot on my tail, I got my bearings long enough to discover that, miraculously, I was just steps from home plate. At long last, I could make my Little League dream come true.

With a limp in my step and a stitch in my side from running more in two minutes than I had in twenty years, I took off for first base. It seemed a lot further away than it looked from the sidelines, but I persisted. When I got there, I rounded toward second. It was getting harder to breathe, but I was already halfway there and livin’ with a Bon Jovi song in my head. Finally, with my eyes focused on the glory ahead and my forty-year-old lungs gagging for oxygen, I rounded third, and that’s when it hit me.

Flat-Brimmed Hat Guy’s head was in my back. His arms were wrapped around my waist, his hands were clinging to my Wayne’s World shirt, and my legs were trapped under his chest as he dragged me effortlessly to the ground.

He spun off me, stood up, and said, “Now get out of here you fat old freak.”

And that’s how my Little League Glory Day would end. I’d finally gotten the chance to run around the Little League bases like I’d always dreamed, and just as I was about to score, a guy with Old Navy cargo shorts had taken me down with the perfect tackle ten feet from home and then yelled at me.

Goddamn football players.

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