Monday, August 15, 2005

Take Me Out of the Ball Game!

Whenever schools open and interest in baseball picks up in the fall, I remember my junior high school gym class playing daze.

We played baseball on the asphalt schoolyard whenever it wasn’t raining. Or rather we played on half of it. The girls’ gym class played on the other half. There was a painted white line that separated the fields, and if a ball rolled across into the girls’ area, the player chasing it stopped at the line and requested that a girl return it. Left fielders got to do that. The rest of us just watched the girl throw the ball back to our game. I was good at watching when I was in seventh grade.

We had large gym classes. I always played center field, and so did at least three others. There were two or three in both right and left field, a couple of short stops, and at least two covering each base. Sometimes there were two catchers, one behind the other.

I batted "oh for three"… years. No instructor ever told me how I might have held the bat differently, positioned myself differently, or swung at the ball differently. I’m pretty sure a smile twitched at the gym teacher’s face when it was my turn to bat, at least when I was a four foot eleven inch seventh grader. He stood behind the catcher and was the umpire. Once when I came to bat, he called to the outfield, "Move in everyone. Easy out."

During my first season, I never did touch the ball. I just stood with the other center fielders, chatting about cars that went by, day dreaming about life without gym class, or watching the girls’ game.

Whenever our huge side put their huge side out, I joined the small mob walking in to bat. We lined up at the fence and waited. Sometimes I didn’t get a turn at bat for two or three weeks. After our side’s three outs, I walked back to the wall in far center field and watched some more.

One day I was on the "shirt’s" team and was leaning against the center field wall. I don’t know how long I stood there watching the girl’s. When reality crept back, I became slowly aware with the mounting panic that only a seventh grader can fully appreciate, that all the other center fielders had no shirts on. Neither did the right or left fielders. My "shirts" team members were lined up at the fence taking turns at bat. I had missed the third out and the change of sides.

As casually as I could, I removed my T-shirt and stuck it into the waistband of my black gym shorts the way everyone else on my immediately adopted "skins" team had done. I was soon shivering from the chilly weather, or maybe trembling with fear that someone might notice. But no one did. Time ran out, and we were ordered into the cold showers before anyone knew I hadn’t gone in to bat.

Oh, I did get on base once in a while. Never as a seventh grader, but once as an eighth grader when I was hit by a pitched ball. By ninth grade I was more astute. I had observed that junior high pitchers were not much better than I was a batter. I stood at the plate maybe six times during that season and never swung at the ball. To swing was to strike, and I knew it. I also knew by then that there was a better than fifty-fifty chance of walking if I did not swing. I got a base-on-balls three or four times that year. Once I was actually batted across the plate to score a run.

But even that didn’t warm me enough to need the shower.

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