by a contributor
“I was okay,” I said, trying to keep my hand off of my nose, draw attention to it. “I didn’t have the arm for it, for throwing to second base. I couldn’t catch people trying to steal. I was always a better hitter.”
“You were? Best average?” I could hear the surprise in his voice, looking over me, scrawny, not the physique of a power hitter, not what people expect. But I never said I hit homeruns. I just got on base. Third in the batting order, looking for an RBI. It’s all a coordination thing. My eyes, my hands, they knew what each other was thinking. Looking back, I don’t even know how I did it, how anyone does it. To see the pitch, decide if it’s worth swinging at, and then making contact, all within a fraction of a second. It doesn’t seem possible.
“I went three straight seasons without a strike out,” I said, without any pride, because I didn’t feel any.
“Well, darn,” the doctor said, slapping his knee, his castrated language feeling more natural coming out of the mouth of a grown man than it should. “That’s good. Do you still play? Like, on an adult league or something?” Somehow, I’m young enough to be called kid, but old enough to play in an adult baseball league.
“No,” I said, “I quit a few years back.”
“Why is that?” he said.
“My knees,” I said, grabbing them, one in each hand, making a circular rubbing motion as if that made them feel better. “Arthritis. My mom has it, everyone on her side. I couldn’t crouch, couldn’t slide. Had to give it up.”
All of this was true, but I didn’t tell him how I hated baseball. I didn’t say how alone it made me feel. For a sport like basketball, when you lose, you lose as a team. No single basket matters, no foul completely fatal. Basketball games are a sum of parts, of an entire match’s actions. But baseball’s not like that. A strike out, a ground ball between your knees means everything. Remember Bill Buckner? The Red Sox lose Game Six of the 1986 World Series after a ball rolls through his legs. Nobody cares about the rest of the game, just that one missed ball, and it’s all his fault. He’ll never live that down. I mean, hell, baseball actually counts and tallies errors. What other sport counts mistakes that way? It’s inhuman. To place that much weight on individual failure, but then put it in the context of a team. Make you responsible for other’s success.
“That’s too bad,” the doctor said. “There are a few leagues around here that could use a hitter like yourself.” I nodded, smiled. Oh well. Too bad. How funny life is sometimes. “The good news,” the doctor continued, shifting his chair toward the desk next to me, “is that you don’t need any blood work. A few questions and you can go.”
But my mind was already gone, the last time I would ever be up at bat, to ever be alone like that on a baseball diamond. Top of the ninth inning, we’d already won the game, but didn’t have enough season wins to play in the tournament. The burden was gone. It was just gravy, meaningless, the whole thing. The ball off my bat, circling the bases, the third base coach yelling, keep going, like a kind of mercy. Sliding into home, my last chance to go out with a home run. As the dust cleared around me I saw the catcher’s glove on the ground, the umpire lifting his thumb, You’re out, ending my baseball career forever.
As if I needed him to tell me I was out. As if I wasn’t home already.
Alex Sobel is a freelance journalist living in Toledo, OH. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online; Foundling Review; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; and theNewerYork.
See Alex’s list of 5 Things on Wednesday.