Here's yet another excerpt from "Nice Guys Finish Last - and that's okay".
There's a message in this one, but you won't be able to just read it. You will, however, feel it once you reach the end........
Like most kids do, I played Little League baseball. I really enjoyed baseball and loved to play. I did really well except for the catching and throwing and batting. But other than that, I had a really nice time. Remember that little kid in Little League who always backed away from the plate when the pitcher threw the ball? And the bat seemed so heavy that the kid couldn’t lift it off his shoulder? Well, that was me. I wouldn’t even swing the bat, just step back when the ball zipped by. I could hear the other team laughing at me and their coach yelling, “Easy Out! He’s a looker! He won’t swing!” That coach was right. The only time I got on base was when their pitcher walked me. That happened a lot since I presented such a small target.
One year, my mother told me that if I got a hit, she’d take me to my favorite place to eat. Bob’s Big Boy restaurant. That Big Boy Burger was the best. This was in the days before the Big Mac. I would do just about anything for a Big Boy Burger, and my mother knew it. So I gathered up all the courage I could find (which wasn’t much), and the next time up at bat, I swung at almost everything. I was told that if you’re going to strike out, it is better to go down swinging. So that’s what I did. A lot. Then one day, the strangest thing happened, the ball somehow made contact with the bat and the next thing I know, everyone’s yelling for me to run to first base. I ran as fast as I could, but they threw me out. It wasn’t all bad though, they tell me I had an RBI off of that hit. Mom said that counts, so off to Big Boys we went. We went to Big Boys a lot that season.
During that same season, the coach held pitching tryouts. I had been practicing with my brother in our backyard for some time, so I signed up. My brother worked with me so I’d be ready for the pitching tryouts. We practiced in our backyard, right behind the garage. The wall made a good back-stop and the only window around was my brother’s bedroom window on the second floor above the garage. One time, he told me my pitch was a little low and throw it higher, so I did. The pitch was perfectly straight towards his mitt, but high, and sailed right through the center of that window. After that, mom wouldn’t let us practice near the house anymore.
The day of the tryouts finally came and all I could think about was that window. But I was determined. My first pitch got everyone’s attention – I threw it as hard as I could and it “popped” right in the center of the catcher’s mitt! “Right down the pipe”, as my brother called it. The rest of my throws were pretty decent too, so as of that day, I was one of our team’s pitchers. Every time I took the mound, I could hear the other team call out “Hey, little pitcher”. Even one of the umpires would stand behind me and encourage me, “C’mon, little pitcher, you can do it!” My older brother said he’d give me $5 for every batter I struck out. I made some good money from him that season. He said he’d give me $10 if I could strike out three in a row in the same inning. And you know something? I did it. Twice! Yep, money from my brother and Big Boy Burgers, that was a good year. I was still the smallest player on the team, but no one made fun of me anymore, and even though I wasn’t growing physically, I was growing in other ways. My self-confidence was beginning to grow.
As I look back on all the fun I had playing Little League baseball, one thing stands out in my mind. Through it all, the good times as well as the bad, the ridicule that later turned to cheering and encouragement, there was one thing that remained constant. My father wasn’t there. He never made to one single game to see me play. But you know who was there? Carl, my step-dad. He cheered me on and offered all the encouragement he could think of through all of it. He really wasn’t my dad, we both knew that, but he sure acted like one. A good one, too. And one thing I know, even though I wasn’t really his son, Carl was proud of me, as if I were his own. He didn’t even have to tell me, I just knew it!