Friday, July 1, 2011

Baseball, Year 2

Eldest's baseball season is over, and he finished strong as one of the team's most consistent hitters (after a lot of strikeouts earlier in the season). The Cardinals experienced and up-and-down, but still fun, season in the machine-pitch league. One of the downs was when a girl on the team accidentally got hit in the face with a bat in the dugout. Another player was goofing around swinging the bat and inadvertently connected with the side of her face. She was OK, and luckily, it wasn't worse.

When it happened to me when I was 8, it was worse.

I blogged in May about my first year of organized baseball. Here's the second year. It wasn't as fun. I played t-ball at Norwood Park in 1978, which wasn't the closest park to our house. Likely, my dad signed me up at Norwood simply because I played basketball there (he did, too). In 1979, I was signed up at Oriole Park, three blocks from our house. I was excited to play again (particularly with many of my friends playing at Oriole), and was looking forward to hitting real pitching rather than off the tee. My dad informed me that I was placed in the Instructional League. I didn't know what that meant, but might have been impressed by the big name.

We went to the Instructional League orientation, where I was in for a shock. I'd still be hitting off a tee. And there were no teams -- just a big group of kids being taught the game. I already knew the game; I didn't need to be instructed on how to play! Instead of real uniforms, we got an orange T-shirt and a hat. Maybe we'd be broken into teams for practice games, but that was as organized as we'd get.

At the site of that tee, I ran out of the Oriole Park gym crying. My father followed me and convinced me to come back, and even though he told me this was for the best, I want to believe now that back then, he was as disappointed as I was. I was one of the few third-graders in the league, which I believe was in it's first year. I had friends my age playing PeeWee, but maybe because they had experience and I didn't, I was held back.

I went to several practices, but in retrospect, it felt like a baseball camp, which, for someone fixated on teams and stats and standings and structure, wasn't appealing. I think coaches started pitching to the Instructional Leaguers by the end of the season, but I never made it the end of the season. Part of it was apathy, and part of it was an airborne bat.

One practice, I arrived and volunteered to temporarily be catcher during batting practice. I didn't put any catcher's equipment on, nor was told to do so by the coaches. After all, no balls were being thrown at me. I just stood way back and waited for the ball to be hit, and if there was a practice play at home to be made, I'd be there.

Fate had other ideas. The batter swung, threw his bat, and nailed me right between the eyes. I remember crying a lot. I remember one of the coaches driving me home and asking me if I was wearing a helmet (I was crying so hard I think he thought I answered yes -- I wasn't). My mom, who would later say my forehead had swollen up, ran me to the emergency room, where X-rays showed no break (I don't believe that diagnosis 32 years later). I came home to find the kids on my block had made me a get-well card.

After getting hammered with the bat, I stopped going to Instructional League practices. I had lost interest, and my parents, who may or may not have been pissed that the coaches had allowed my injury to happen (one catcher's mask would have prevented it), didn't push me to go. I learned more the next summer, my first year in PeeWee, than I did in my summer of Instructional League. What I did get out of the summer of 1979 was a uniquely directional nose. The Resurrection Hospital ER said my nose wasn't broken, but as I got older and my nose grew, it started growing at an angle. If you look at my face today, really study it, you will see my nose veers off to the right a little. This had to be set into motion that day when the bat hit my face and damaged it just enough not to be seen by a doctor but to send my nose on a gradual journey starboard.

The odd thing about the summer of 1979 was that I loved watching baseball more than ever, but unfortunately got stuck playing baseball in an ill-conceived league. I would have been better off learning the game by actually playing games. That's why I'm happy Eldest got the chance to play machine pitch this year in which scores were kept and he learned the mechanics of the game, and that's why Littlest, who begins t-ball again next week, will be part of a lineup, bat, and run the bases, even if scores and outs aren't kept.

(Click here for part 3 of my youth baseball saga, another year on the Reds.)

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