Friday, July 06, 2012

The douchiest thing I ever did (in sports)

If you look closely, you
should see wristbands
 When I was younger, I played A LOT of softball (that's me in the picture, wearing tight blue pants and playing for the mighty Bravo Company, 4th Support Battallion in Frankfurt, Germany. My game went to seed right around the time I got really serious about a girl for the first time. I'm sure that's just a silly coincidence and the only thing you should imply from that is that women have ruined my life in a variety of ways.

In both baseball and softball (which are essentially the same game), I was a chatterbox (shocker) catcher and first baseman. My power numbers weren't that impressive but I could always spray the ball around the yard for a high batting average. Considering my husky boy build and complete lack of speed, I was probably better suited to be a Greg Luzinski-style home run slugger instead of a Rod Carew-esque singles hitter. But even though I didn't hit many homers, I could always get on base and drive in runs. Point being, I really was a pretty good hitter.

And I was pretty competetive about it too. If I'm being completely honest, I took it waaaay too seriously. I'm much more mature now. If I'd had my current temperment back then, I probably would have been a better player. But back then, I'd get all psyched up the day of a game and would celebrate wins with high fives and mourn losses with streams of swear words. In baseball parlance, I had a terminal case of red ass. Either way, lots of grunting and yelling. And I never wore eyeblack, but sweatbands, double batting gloves, sunglasses (the flip-up kind, later replaced by Oakleys when they came out), sweatshirt under my jersey and a short-sleeve pullover windbreaker on top ? Oh yeah, all of that. Point being, I really was pretty obnoxious.

At one point while I was still in my prime, I briefly dated a lovely young lady named Dani and we went to her company picnic. I didn't know any of her co-workers prior to that so I hadn't planned on participating in any of the games or festivities. We were having a nice time, eating food, drinking beer and mingling. There was a softball game taking place, with men, women and little kids playing, obviously not competetive and very low stakes. As it got later in the day, some of Dani's male co-workers started chirping, egging us on to play. I really didn't want to and she definitely didn't want to. She was wearing a sun dress, I had on a polo shirt and jeans and neither of us wanted to get all sweaty. Plus, Dani had seen me play softball competetively, where I engaged fully in the back and forth chatter and, being as she was a reasonable, well-adjusted human being, it was not her favorite aspect of my personality. But the chirping started taking on an edge, like I was being challenged to play and if I didn't, well, that was some sort of statement on my masculinity. Why did they insist on drawing me in? It wasn't like I was the only guy not playing. But it sure felt like I was the only one being called out. Maybe it had something to do with Dani and some sort of office politics. Maybe they assumed (correctly) that I had easily pushable buttons. I never did figure it out. No matter, I eventually caved in and joined just in time for what they had determined would be the last inning. 
I stood around in right field (with no glove) for the 1-2-3 top half of the inning, thankful I didn't have to chase down any hits. At this point, I was far more interested in not annoying Dani than I was in the outcome of the game. The team I was on came up to the plate was behind by a few runs and I was buried deep in the batting order. It was looking like I'd get in and out without having to do anything at all, which I knew would make Dani very happy. However, my side started slapping together some hits and rallied. I also started kinda getting into it a little bit. Then a lot into it. Damn it, I wish I'd had my batting gloves.

Or at least my Oakleys, bro! Damn!

Soon, I found myself on deck with nobody out, two runners on base and down by one run. Unless the guy at bat hit into a triple play, I was going to have to bat. The appeal of ending the game as a hero was pretty strong, but I still didn't want to annoy Dani by going all alpha-Clark. That's when I came up with my idea. If nothing else, I thought it would be funny. The idea made me laugh, anyway.
The guy ahead of me lined out and I stepped into the batter's box with one out, the winning run on first base and the possibility of a game ending double play a grounder away. I took up my stance by spreading my feet really wide, with my knees turned awkwardly inward and held the bat over my head with my hands apart. The pitch came in and I didn't move my body but flipped the bat using nothing but my wrists, mustering a completely harmless "swing". Strike one. A loud sarcastic "Wooooooooo!" came up and the players on the other team moved in close.
The second pitch came in and this time I used my entire body, except for my wrists, to swing, twirling in a circle and almost screwing myself into the ground like a cartoon character in the process, but not coming even close to hitting the ball. Strke two. Now that I had established myself as a hapless spaz, my opponents moved in even closer and some of them even sat down and took off their gloves. I swear I could smell potato salad on their breath. Perfect.
As the pitcher started his wind-up, I modified my stance. I moved my feet to shoulder width, bent my knees, leaned in and lifted the heel of my left foot slightly. My right elbow went up, my left elbow tucked into my side. I re-gripped the bat with my hands together and waited for that big, fat ball to make its way to the plate.

It's difficult to describe with words, but when you hit a baseball or softball right, I mean really hit it, it almost feels like the ball is made of liquid and your bat is slicing through it. You know you've gotten hold of it and unless some stupid fielder does something inconsiderate and miraculous, you're going to see their backsides while they chase after it.

The first person to realize what was going to happen, even before I did, was the pitcher who saw me uncoiling after he released the ball and said, "oh, shi...". With a loud, wet smack, the ball took off over his head, his infielders heads and had yet to reach its peak as it flew over his outfielders. Did it travel farther than most normal humans can hit a softball, like something you'd see in a movie"? Not at all. In all likelihood it would have been nothing more than a routine pop fly out if the outfielders hadn't been a bunch of smartasses and moved way in to cop squats in the grass, which they probably wouldn't have done if I hadn't pretended to be so feeble in my previous two swings. They didn't even bother to chase it, instead just glaring at me as the two runners ahead of me crossed the plate. I didn't even run all the way to second, instead heading back to my date after touching first. Game, picnic and relentless loudmouth chirping over. 

But it's probably a good thing that girl and I broke up before her Christmas party.

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