DISCLAIMER: My wife is still sick, and asleep again. Also my daughter is now sick. Also I don’t have a computer anymore, because technology doesn’t like me, so I’m typing this on an old thing I found under some garbage. (I wish I were joking.) I ask for patience and mercy, please!
I’m pretty sure that my love of baseball was doomed from the start. I’m not going to say that we were “star crossed lovers,” because I try to avoid invoking Romeo and Juliet whenever possible (for reasons to be explained at another time), but we were probably as close as a man and sport can come.
It started on my eighth birthday. My parents gave a brand new baseball to me. If you’ve ever played and ever seen a new ball, you understand how beautiful and magical this moment was to my day-dreamy little self. Had they given me a star from the heavens, I would have been less smitten. (After all, how exactly does one play with a star?)
No sooner had I finished my cake–I still had priorities, after all–than I dragged my older brother outside to play with me. With there being only the two of us, and with him being seven years my senior, you can probably imagine how well we approximated the sport. He convinced me that, if I wanted to spend as much time with my new ball as possible, I should pitch it to him. Then I could run and fetch the ball after he hit it. Then I could repeat this until he got bored.
Thus on my eighth birthday I became the naive equivalent of one of those pitching machines I’ve seen on television. My part could have been played by a lawnmower engine and a conveyor belt. And then by a faithful dog, because we only had the one ball and pitching machines can’t retrieve. (For the record, I don’t begrudge my brother any of this. He could have convinced me to dance in traffic, and I would remember it fondly. He’s my older brother.)
Of course, one significant advantage an actual pitching machine would have had over me was its inability to get injured. I pitched the ball with all my eight-year-old enthusiasm, he hit it with all of his fifteen-year-old strength, and it flew directly at me with all of it’s one-day-old solidity. I suppose, had we been playing on a regulation field, I would have been all right. Unfortunately, as a small child, I couldn’t throw very far. I think my brother hit me from about ten feet away.
Judging from the way he told the story afterward, I became airborne from the force of the impact, flying backwards in slow motion while he imagined how angry our parents were going to be with him. Of course I don’t remember anything for the next several minutes. I do remember not playing baseball with my brother ever again.
Then years later, once my tremulous psyche had recovered, I got to experience the other side of the story. In the interim my brother had left for college and my family had moved into a city, so I didn’t have a yard to play in but I finally got to be at bat. I would go out onto our driveway everyday, throw balls into the air, and swing at them when they came down.
In retrospect, no part of this plan seems good.
Once, while I diligently watched the ball I had thrown into the air, my elderly neighbor walked out onto his own driveway. The ball dropped; I connected with it better than I had ever done before in my life; my neighbor heard the “crack” and turned toward me. The world slowed down as soon as I hit the ball. Too late I saw him walking in front of me. I saw as the baseball flew toward him as though it had a terrible grudge against him. I thought to myself, “This story isn’t going to have a happy ending.”
I’m going to pretend that, by turning toward me, he spared himself the agony of a broken hip. Unfortunately he exchanged it for a different sort of agony, which he didn’t seem to prefer at all. Then, as the brave teenager I had become, I think I ran away. Oddly, I don’t remember the next several minutes after this story either. I do remember not being allowed to play baseball in the neighborhood again.