The Past Time Involving the Pastime: Later Baseball Years

by Chris McGinty of

I figure that three posts about
playing baseball as a kid are good enough to get most of my memories down. In
the first post, I talked about tee ball and trying to kill my brother. In the
second post, I talked about pitching, and almost taking a line drive to my nuts. In some ways, this post may be a letdown.

When the pitcher position changed
over from pitching to your own team to practice accuracy to pitching to the
other team and actually trying to strike someone out, I just didn’t have the
new skills needed. I was still a pretty good player, though I was starting to
make my way down the list of top players.
I spent some time in the infield
playing all four positions. I think they put me as catcher in a couple of
practices, but I don’t believe I ever played the position in a real game. At
one point, I was on first base. This was perhaps an odd position for me,
because the thing I was good at was throwing. I could throw far. I could throw
accurately. First base doesn’t have a lot of throwing going on.

Chris is on third. Right. I don’t throw. First base.

One game, our dugout was right
next to first base. The batter got struck out, and I ran to the dugout. It was
three outs after all. Or so I thought. It was actually two outs. The nice thing
about being pretty much anywhere else is that you can see when your teammates
are running in. When you’re right next to the dugout, you don’t see that you’re
the only fool running in. My coach was standing there and said, “That was two
outs. Where are you going?” I responded, “To the races.” It was a Marx Brothers
reference. It was all I had in that moment.

At some point, maybe even during
another year of baseball, I was demoted to the outfield. They gave me a good
reason, which is that I was a fast runner, and had a good arm. These are both
traits you need in the outfield, but I somewhat hated outfield. I got bored
easily, and outfield can be boring. It was a lot of standing around hoping that
the inning would end soon, so you could go watch your team bat. There aren’t a
lot of power hitters in little league, so while you occasionally got to catch a
fly ball, you mostly only got to do something when an infielder missed a catch.
One day, I was out in centerfield
and exactly that happened. The batter hit the ball just high enough that it
went over the second baseman’s head, but low enough that I had no chance of
catching it and getting the batter out. The runner on second base clearly saw
this, because as I snagged the ball up I saw that he was running full speed at
third base. Their coach was waving him home, so they were seriously sure that
that was the break they needed. What we were taught was to use a cut-off
player. Throw to second base or the short stop, and they’ll throw to home. In a
very instantaneous thought, I realized that the reason I was in centerfield was
that I threw far and had good accuracy, and the batter wasn’t going to try for
second base since I’d already snagged up the ball. I threw to home…
I’ll get back to that story in a
minute. I need to tell you about another time I screwed up. It involves me
getting into a fight I didn’t win. So far all the stories I’ve told took place
when I was still living in California. My dad was in the Air Force, and we
moved a lot. We ended up in the Fort Worth area, and we moved into a rental
house in Azle, Texas. If you go back and look at my little league pictures,
you’ll see that I already was wearing my hair long by choice. I wanted to look
like Luke Skywalker. I mean, who didn’t?
I don’t want to get too much into
the realm of “back in my day,” but seriously. There be a lot of young uns these
days that think that the older generation is a bunch of bigoted assholes. You
have no idea how wrong you are. We’re nothing compared to what we grew up with.
California was a bit more progressive, so no one thought anything about my long
hair. Azle Jr. High started my first day in class sending me to the principal’s
office to explain why I was going to have to cut my hair. Little boys don’t
need to look like little girls, don’t ya know.
This also put me on the radar of
those who wanted to size me up. Some of these guys were assholes who would
never give me a chance to be friends with them. This is probably a good thing
in retrospect. There was this kid named Travis. He started out by picking a
fight with me in class, and then following up after class. It had been so long
since I’d been bested in a fight that as he threw me against a locker I was
really glad that there was a teacher nearby. Except that the asshole teacher
disciplined both of us. I really didn’t do anything except swing my book at
Travis to get him to back off, and then get thrown against a locker. So my
first day at a new school, I was told I couldn’t wear my hair long, and got in
trouble for fighting.
The weird thing is that Travis
basically warmed up to me after that, but I avoided him. He wasn’t the
misunderstood bully with the heart of gold. He had a fucked up life, as I came
to find out, but at least as of the last time that I saw him, he was going down
a bad path. I hope things went well for him, but I suspect that like many of
us, he had to make some mistakes first. The last time I saw him, he asked me if
I knew where to get weed. The second to the last time I saw him was when my
baseball team played his team.
I was still centerfield. I was
also pretty irritated that Travis was playing baseball. I didn’t like him. He
hadn’t tried to beat me up again, and he was basically pleasant the few times
we briefly spoke. I still didn’t like him. In the little victory department, he
came up to bat in the seventh inning, and he hit a homerun. Well, it would have
been a home run except that I played deep. It was easier to run in than to back
up. I backed up a few steps and snagged the ball before it went over the fence.
It was super casual. I didn’t even have to jump, because they were short
fences. It’s the little revenges, I guess. Sorry, Travis. If it makes you feel
any better, you really hit that ball. My hand hurt the rest of that game from
catching that hit.
Anyway, let me finish up the
story where I broke protocol and threw home rather than to second base. My
coach didn’t end up being mad at me for screwing up the rules for using a
cut-off, because he realized after all was said and done that the other team
needed that run. Like I said, it was a break they needed. You have someone on
second base with little chance of getting him home this inning, and the batter
hits that sweet spot where the infield can’t do anything and the outfield has
to work for it.
I wish I could say that I knew
the ball might go wild at the moment that I threw it, but I was so sure that I
could throw far and accurately. I mean, I’d been playing for years at that
point, and I really wasn’t that bad of a player. How likely was it really that
I would end up throwing the ball into the dugout rather than to the catcher?
Luckily, that didn’t happen. The ball sailed over the surprised second baseman,
and continued sailing over the pitcher’s head. It bounced once. The catcher
caught it high, then swung it low, and tagged out the runner. That was the only
time I broke protocol like that, but it turned out to be the right choice.
I played baseball into my teen
years, but the other players started getting better while I was staying about
the same. To make matters worse, for some reason the last season I played, I
became afraid of getting hit by the ball when I was at bat. I was hitting just
fine in practice, but something about the other team pitching was getting to
me. I only hit one ball during that last season. The screwed up part was that
it was a good solid hit. I never even got hit by the ball. I think it might
have been better for me if I had. It would have shown me that it wouldn’t be
that big of a deal. Or it would have broken my arm. You never know.
Chris McGinty is a blogger who
never wanted to make the big time playing baseball. And in that way, he succeeded.

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