Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Learning How to Hit

My whole little league career had been nothing but strikeout after strikeout. My days as a player were an exercise in frustration, left field day dreams, and batting practice embarrassment. Do you remember when I intentionally struck out and took off for 1st base? I misunderstood the rule about wild foul balls on a full count (sounds like I still don't understand that rule) and fully believing I'd discovered a little known loop hole in the game intentionally struck out, dropped the bat and sprinted for first. On base atlast.

Little league was a hopeless exercise in mediocrity and public humiliation, until you taught me how to hit a fastball. You taught me to hold the bat in a weird way with the bat up and way behind my shoulders, almost like I was waving a flag. The stance felt funny at first. But it worked! At first you threw easy stuff while I built up my confidence. I'd slice and ground 'em, but then I started to get it. You pitched and I hit the ball. I couldn't believe it the ball really flew. By the end of the week you threw hard that impressed me, you threw really hard. The ball would fly off your hand faster than anything I'd ever seen in a little league game. I'd swing and hit it almost every time. The sweet sharp crack of the ball and bat was an exalted sound from a
flubber like me. The echoes of those clean hits still chime. I was hitting long flies by now, no limping grounders, protracted arcs, high and away. A few ever went over the fence and into my psyche. Every time I hit one of your impossibly fast pitches I envisioned extra base hits. These were shots that would make me a legend in a league that saw weeds grow around 9 year old outfielders. It was a miracle! A couple of nights of coaching and you'd turned me around!

In Little League I was convinced that a single good hit got you into the majors. You could vault from the minors to the majors in one great stroke! In the majors you got a real uniform, not just the t_shirt and hat we were issued in the minor leagues. I was sure of the way to advancement because any kid on our team who could hit seemed to disappear before the next game. Inevitably we'd see the new recruit (in full uniform) show up for a major league game.
Every day for a week you took me to the field for batting practice. By the end of the week I was sure I could hit anything the other guys would pitch me. Come game day I was moving up!

The day before the game I was filled with keen anticipation. I couldn't wait for Saturday. I was thinking about it a lot. I didn't say anything to my friends about my newly found hitting abilities, my buddies wouldn't believe me anyway. I had to show 'em.

At recess that day we were playing kickball. The pitcher was shipping the ball over the hot black asphalt of the playground. Kids were shouting for their favorite pitches. "Bounces! Baby Bounces, Right over the plate!" I was in the outfield even here in kickball I was consigned
to deep left.

Suddenly someone kicked a high fly ball, you could hear that satisfying ka_thonk of a well kicked ball. The ball soared above the playground, getting smaller and smaller, up there in the sky. I watched it head for me. It was dropping right at me! This ball was mine!

I put my hands up, spreading all my fingers wide, anticipating the catch. The kickball plummeted down. I positioned myself_ hands spread, the ball fell out of the sky and bounced off the ring finger of my right hand. There was a surprisingly shrill boinking sound followed by a subtle little "pop". The ball had come down on my outstretched fingers, it was as if I had tried to spear the kickball instead of catching it. Yeow the pain. I grabbed at my right wrist, instinctively knowing I didn't want to touch my finger. Hugging the hand down against my belly, I doubled over in shock and fear it hurt, it hurt bad. Then I forced myself to lift my hand up and look at it.

What I saw shocked the pain to a stop.

The finger took an unnatural 90 degree left turn at the first knuckle folding grotesquely over my middle finger. The knuckle was swollen and already discolored. I figured it was broken for sure.

By now all my buddies were crowded about me. They gazed at the twisted wreck of my hand in stunned, appreciative silence_ the type of silence that draws a thick crowd on the playground. My friends, morbidly fascinated by the pending shock we were all certain to cause, escorted me into the school. I was hustled along by the crowd. I held my mangled hand out front of me, an irrefutable hall pass that took me straight to Mrs. Jorgensen.

Mrs. Jorgensen was one of the toughest, strictest, scariest, teachers I'd ever had. I spent the whole year in the fourth grade trying to avoid her gaze. I'd slouch rigid in my seat, doing my best not to fidget, hoping she'd forget I was alive. She had a voice that would crack across your brain like a bull whip she always wore brown. Her voice left a bitter taste in its wake.

I shoved my mangled digit in her face. " Look!" I didn't do it to shock or annoy, I was scared, my finger was broken for sure. She was the teacher, she'd know what to do. He tough wrinkled face changed. Her eyes widened, as I waved my right angled finger in her face the formidable Mrs. Jorgensen cracked, hysteria set in, she panicked, screamed, fell apart before the unmitigated horror of my hideously crooked finger. She scared me to death!

After Mrs. Jorgensen ran shrieking from the room I was rushed by my pals to the principal's office. Next thing I knew I was at the doctor's office. I clearly recall getting two shots, on either side of the base of the offended finger. The doctor seized the crooked from of the finger, pulled gently and it popped back into place.

"Dislocated, not broken" he said. Dislocated, I mulled the word over in my mind, I'd never heard it before and now that the fear and pain had faded it sounded neat. Dislocated. A smooth metal splint, a slight s curve that matched the contours of the finger was taped into place and I was sent home.

The splint and the story made me the center of attention for awhile.

The baseball season was over before my finger was fixed.

I never played in Little League again.

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