Finding balance in a chaotic world

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December 2017
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One More Word and You’re Out of the Game

Growing up I loved to play baseball more than any other sport. I’d play catch with my dad in the backyard, break out the old wiffle ball and bat with friends, and when I’d go to my grandmother’s house, there was always a baseball game across the street. When I became old enough, I started playing on the town’s youth league. I remember it being a weird mixture of fun and unholy stress. I was pretty insecure at the time and there was always at least one bully on my team that I had to deal with. I was also afraid of getting hit by the ball. The main issue was that although I’m right-handed, I bat left-handed. Given the minority of lefty hitters, the pitchers just did not have much practice there so I had to dodge my share of balls. Still I did enjoy playing the game.


I was actually pretty competent at the game as well. I was an excellent fielder and a reasonable hitter, although again due to my left-handed batting I walked a lot. Originally, I played center and left field but after a season or two I moved up to second base, which was a position I loved.  I got to be involved in many plays and it was a lot less boring than the outfield since there were not a lot of fly balls hit out there. Apparently I was a good enough second baseman to play that position through much of my “career” so I’m guess I did well. Except for that one day.


Now this league was a community league, I don’t even think it was part of the official “little league.” Now baseball was popular in the town, and still is, so there were easily a dozen or two teams on the league, but to my knowledge we never competed in organized tournaments or anything. Just kids playing baseball. Coaches typically had kids on the team and every year there was a search for sponsors for uniforms.


So one game I’m out at second base just doing my thing. The batter hits the ball and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t involved in the play at all. The shortstop or third baseman fielded the grounder and threw it to first. The ump called the runner safe but I was fairly certain that the first baseman caught the ball before the runner touched the bag.


I don’t know what possessed me that day but I turned to the ump and said “He was out by a second.” Normally I never talked to the umps, why would I? But maybe my twelve year-old brain was hopped up on grape kool-aid or I was looking forward to my next pinch of Big League Chew. Whatever the reason, those words left my mouth. The ump turns to me and yells “One more word and you’re out of the game!”


The response shocked me. I knew immediately I had made a mistake. I shut up, turned around and just tried my best to get out of the inning. Soon the three outs happened and I walked into the chain-link dugout. My teammates asked me what the commotion on field was about and told them but I just wanted to get out of there. My stomach flip flopped and I felt nauseous. The back of my neck was all prickly.


My coach was a great guy. He understood we were just kids playing a game and when he heard what the ump said to me, he called time out and immediately marched out there to talk to them.


Well much yelling ensued and pointing at me. The end result was my coach said “If you are going to throw a kid out for that, you need to throw me out.” So they did. They kicked my coach out of the game. At that point I felt like throwing up. I told the other coaches I didn’t feel well and I got my parents and went home.


My parents were relatively supportive. They asked me why I said it and of course I had no idea. It just came out. Nothing else came of it and the matter was dropped. The next practice the only comment made was “don’t talk to the umps.” I nodded my head and life went on.


But you know, I never really got over it. Even right now as I’m typing this, I still feel slightly tense when I’m reliving the scene. On the one hand, what kind of ump threatens a kid like that? Sure I shouldn’t have said what I said, but a quick “I’m the ump and he’s safe,” would have ended it. On the other hand, what does it matter? This was over twenty years ago, I shouldn’t even care anymore.


But there’s a lot more to it for me. For one thing playing baseball and basketball will forever be tied to getting my father’s approval. We were never really a sports family but I know Dad liked to see me try and succeed. He’d have criticism of me if I did not do my best and I know he was there watching each game. It was nothing we ever talked about directly, but I knew he wanted me to succeed. Getting thrown out of a game definitely didn’t count as succeeding.


The year my parents divorced was the last year I played baseball or basketball. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but my heart was not in the game. It was strange, the previous year I played the best I ever had and my team picked me to be on it the next year, something that never happened before. But my motivation was shot. I barely performed that year and I know I was a disappointment to my coaches. I remember the last game I played. I knew it would be my last; I was not going to sign up next year. At my first at-bat, I cracked a home run deep into the outfield, my second one in my career. I thought it was appropriate that I ended on a high note and as I left the dark field that night with my mother, I told myself that at least I ended on a high note.


Events like that my encounter with a community baseball coach affect us pretty deeply, more than we may know. They may be painful memories but they helped to shape us and I feel it is important to embrace them, to realize that they made you who you are today. So think of some of those traumatic events of your childhood and analyze them with the maturity of an adult. Learn from them and see how they helped to shape you. It may be that they proved to be detrimental to you, so in that case, determine the steps you need to right yourself and take them.


Bad things happen to everyone. Still, the pain subsides over time and when it does, take a hard analytical look at the event. You will become better balanced for it and could help to avoid a similar situation in the future.