When you need to check the finger holes of your mitt for spiders, it’s a good sign that you are probably near the top of your gaming potential.
I was born with significant eye issues. As I understand the story, my parents realized this when a bottle of soap was dropped towards my face and I didn’t blink like a normal baby. Saving this post from a long detailed medical synopsis, the tests revealed that I would live my life “technically blind” if nothing were done (I could have told you where the window was in room, but not much more). At 18months my parents put their little baby under the knife, a procedure that included literally taking my eyeballs out of my head, tweaking some things, and shoving them back in. I then spent the next several years in pretty intensive eye therapy that included lots of patches and crazy thick glasses.
All I remember about the patch was that it wasn’t anywhere near as cool as a pirate wears, and definitely didn’t come with a talking bird. I consider sight a genuine blessing, and my parents don’t hesitate to attribute my current condition to God’s answer to their prayers. However, dressing like the medically complicated Black Bart during your formative years had a couple consequences; my left eye tends to wander a bit, kids are mean when something is wrong with your face, and I absolutely suck at baseball.
I remember sitting on the edge of my bed at age 11 having an all too real discussion with my dad that a hit-less season of fast pitch baseball was possibly a sign that I needed to retire from playing deep right field. My dad, a supreme athlete in high school, was very supportive…and probably relieved that he didn’t have to find a way to coach me through this hot mess. With intimate knowledge of my limitations, I didn’t play a single pick-up game of baseball for 26 years after my tearful bedside press conference. If I’m speaking honestly, the overwhelming shame of letting everyone down every single time you become part of the game, is pretty easy to let go. I still shudder when I think about my last at bat. We were behind, had a few runners on base and two outs. The coach said, “Kasey is up,” and the entire team let out a collective sigh of defeat. There was no question in anyone’s mind that I probably didn’t even know which way to run, because that action had never been necessary. Remaining true to form, I took 4 swings (actually tipped the ball on one, which I emotionally logged as a “chance.”) and the season was over. As the kids threw their mitts on the ground in defeat and sauntered out of the dugout…I was assured that my chance at getting votes for class president was going to rely heavily on my personality.
And then, 26 years later, in a move to support my wife’s decision to consider trying something new, I joined the church softball team. Signing my name on the roster immediately brought back a bucket full of emotions. I don’t think that I realized how deep rooted the pain of being the absolute worst one on the team damages the soul of a young boy. But, she wasn’t going to do it alone, so I checked my pride at the door and readied my fragile heart for the upcoming tornado of shame. I’m not sure if it is a statement of performance level of team, or a Christmas miracle, but I ended up playing first base. I can’t say for certain, but I may be the only first baseman with no depth perception. My apishly long arms and dumb luck served me ok for two seasons as I bobbled many a ball that was catchable, giving the other team that much needed morale boost as they converted a marginal hit into a double. I even occasionally manage to hit the ball, something that escaped me during my younger years when I really cared about it. As if wanting to make sure that I had all of the experiences, I pulled a hammy in my first season, and was able to be one of those middle aged dudes on the sidelines that needed to stretch constantly during the game, and would occasionally re-injure things as I rounded first resulting in the pain ridden hop-run to second.
I didn’t play this season to spend more time riding my bike. Honestly, I miss the fellowship and laughs that come with this type of league. Last week, my old team was going to be short too many players and needed someone to fill in and protect their perfect season (which was definitely not protected, sorry about that loss). As I assured the team that they were not missing a clutch player through my red-shirt season by missing catches, high slow pop flies that all 9 of the other players have time to catch, and a few other choice errors…I had a really great time. Unlike resting a sprain for few weeks, icing your baseball career for 26 years doesn’t make you better. And, unfortunately, my lazy left eye doesn’t decide that it is going to start working, giving me less fear when the ball is ripping towards my face. However, my friends from church love me, and the only shame I feel these days is entire from within. My errors are met with laughter, encouragement, and the occasional, “what were you thinking?”…but never what I endured as a young kid.
This goes on the list of a major advantage of getting older, and being surrounded with real friends.