Sunday, September 27, 2009

Big Hitters

I was the Kirby Puckett of intramural baseball in college; I was Jose Canseco, man. The memory of how I astounded everyone on the field came back to me while I was mowing the lawn.

I was never very good at sports as a kid in grade school. Most lousy players are relegated to right field but I wasn’t good enough for that; when I lobbed the dropped flies back to the infield as hard as I could, the runner usually was around third base before my second bounce brought the ball to the shortstop. Eventually, though, the PE teacher discovered I could play first base. I could catch a thrown ball nearly every time, I had a talent for tagging the base and I was tall enough to stop some hard line drives with my face and then pick it up (the ball) and tag that base. Canseco and Puckett were never first basemen but fielding position wasn’t where I equaled their prowess.

The memories came back while I was mowing the lawn. I think a lot while mowing. I’ve written comedy bits and honed routines while mowing. I’ve never solved accounting problems while mowing but I’ve solved economic and political controversies – well, really, I just created biting satire. Today I wasn’t creating, I was thinking about how worthless a suburban lawn is.

Everyone who has ever mowed a lawn has thought this. Why do we spend time and money and destroy the earth with chemicals, pesticides and gas-powered equipment just to grow a lawn? The only reason is that it provides an ideal place for kids to play ball. You also have to grow a bush for first base and a tree for second and live near a street light to serve as third, but the lawn is the main thing.

I had a lot more fun playing ball on the lawn with the neighbor kids than I ever did sitting in a stadium watching Canseco or Puckett or even Steve Garvey. I played wiffle ball on the lawn with my daughter. She, like her parents, was not great at sports. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, particularly if the tree was never very good at falling. The only way the fruit ever grows anywhere off beyond the root system of the tree it sprang from is when some creature ingests the fruit and poops the seeds out someplace farther down the road. In sports, this is referred to as coaching.

And that’s where sport has gone these days. Little kids don’t play on the lawn; they are pushed into organized sports with coaches to mold them in hopes that they will one day support their parents with their sports income. Every sport evolves from fun street ball or lawn game into a tedious profession. Even Cornhole. Then we pay to watch other people play, when the most fun we ever had was in our own game on our own suburban lawn.

The memories came back to me while I was mowing. I had fun in intramural baseball in college. We played in a big grass field, not a stadium. We had coed teams; each team had to have at least 3 women, so that it was more social camaraderie and less testosterone induced competition. I was at first base. Up to bat was a petite young woman who happened to be my H.R.’s girlfriend. She popped the ball up about half the distance between home plate and first base.

Keep your eye on the ball. That’s what they tell hitters, but it is just as important for fielding, right? Watch the ball into your glove. When I saw that little popup, I sprinted down the first base line, glove extended. The ball was dropping, so I bent forward as I ran and managed to snag the ball, just before it hit the turf.

I had my eye on the ball. I don’t know what the petite young woman was looking at. She ran straight down the line toward first base just as I was running straight down the line toward the ball and her. In the middle, I leaned over and caught the ball just as she ran her stomach right into my shoulder. My shoulder connecting with her stomach caused her to bend over a good deal, with her face coming down toward my back. That was unexpected. I stood up in surprise. Which caused her to be lifted off the ground. Whereupon she continued forward, performing a somersault (albeit involuntarily) six feet off the ground, landing flat on her back behind me.

For some reason this was seen by everyone, especially her boyfriend the H.R., to be my fault. The fact that I had caught the ball and she was OUT was completely overlooked and this petite little wuss was awarded first base. I was looked on as a violent offender, abusing a woman as if I was Jose Canseco or Kirby Puckett.

That memory came back to me while I was mowing the lawn. Maybe it explains why I spent little time teaching my daughter baseball and more time playing things like driveway kickball which had made up rules more like Calvinball than any organized sport.

PS – domestic violence is not funny but, too often, we look the other way when sports figures do it. Michael Vick made big news when he went to jail for abusing dogs and Plaxico Burress is in headlines and in jail for shooting himself in the leg, but how many sports stars make big news and get comparable jail time for abusing a spouse or girlfriend?

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