Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Vision and the Quiet Phone

Each year when catchers and pitchers report to spring training, I often ponder why my telephone doesn't ring. I wonder why one team or another wouldn't be seeking an older player to provide leadership with his wisdom, his experience and his batting prowess.

Then I remember, and I know why the telephone remains silent.

I may be the worst athlete in the history of sports.

And it's not just now that that applies. Sure, I'm a fat, middle-aged guy with gimpy knees, an old rotator cuff injury and bad eyes. But when I was a youngster in the prime of my sporting life I was also pretty much a detriment to any team. Each school had one in gym class and, yes, I was that one — the kid picked last.

I should have seen it coming when I tried out for Little League baseball. I guess my parents thought that, despite me being a dorky kid, I should do things that other normal kids did. They signed me up one spring and on the day of the first practice, I apprehensively walked the few blocks from my home to where the tryouts were held.

I was supposed to wear glasses then, but I didn't. My eyesight was horrendous. I don't know how I made it through my northern Minnesota childhood without vision. I don't know how I avoided being hit by an unseen bus or eaten by a bear that I mistook for Hubert Humphrey or a family member because of my bad vision.

I remember clearly now, nearly half a century later, when I took batting practice. I stood at the plate and then swung the bat mightily. “Uh, son,” the coach said. “You might want to wait until the pitcher throws the ball.”

The other children who watched made fun, commenting on how I swung at all the bad pitches and let the good ones go by.

Yes, I should have seen it coming (well, sensed it coming since I didn't see well). But a coach took pity and put me on his team. Maybe he was hoping for some Hallmark Moment where the geeky kid drove in a run and won the game, receiving the adulation of his teammates and realizing the world was a loving place. Instead, he was only disappointed.

My first game coincided with my birthday. We played the Orioles at the fields on 17th St. NE and Bemidji Avenue in Bemidji, Minn., and I was the leadoff hitter. I guess the coach wanted to get the bad out of the way.

The Oriole's pitcher was pretty wild and, after the coach saw his warmups, advised me not to take the bat off my shoulder. I walked on four pitches and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. I scored a moment later on an error and we led, 1-0. It was a brief lead. We ended up losing, 29-1. During the contest, I lost a fly ball while playing somewhere in the outfield. I heard the ball plop behind me and by the time I felt around for it, the runner had scored.

The coach was so angry, maybe because he saw that Hallmark Moment dashed, he berated me in front of the team and the spectators and took me out of the contest. When the game was over I, dejected and hurt, walked home and never returned to the field.

Maybe that's why I gravitated to the APBA games. I only needed enough vision to see the cards and to read the dice rolls. Give me a 32-ounce bat and I had no idea where the ball would go if I even hit it. But roll a “32” in APBA's baseball game and I know chances are it's a fly ball to centerfield.

It was the only way I could become close to sports. It wasn't real playing of sports with the APBA game with dice and cards, but it felt as real as what I could feel for sports because of my limitations. I was good at APBA at least.

But let the record show my lifetime batting stats are such: One game, zero official at bats because of the walk, one run scored. My career is much like that of Moonlight Graham, whose only pro appearance was when he played outfield for the New York Giants in the ninth inning of a game on June 29, 1905. He was immortalized in the tear-jerking movie “Field of Dreams.” And to take this a bit further, let the record further show that my birthday is June 29. And, Graham died in Minnesota about 60 miles from my home in August 1965, only a few years before my one appearance in a game.

Despite the parallels I have with a real professional baseball player, decades later, my phone still sits quietly each spring. The teams don't call. And that's fine. I've learned after all these years that there are very few Hallmark Moments and they sure don't happen to geeky kids who won't wear their glasses.


  1. Ken,

    One of your finest efforts among many excellent posts! Thanks.


  2. 32 = fly out to RF :-)