Baseball was never my game. In fact, I wasn't very athletic as a kid. But I played Little League baseball because that's what you did when you were a kid in a small town. I was young for my age and small for my size. But "normal" enough. Oh sure, there were a couple kids who were clearly very good at any sport they tried. I was one of the others.
But now that I look back, it was worse than I thought. In backyard baseball, your worst player goes in right field because there aren't many left-handed hitters so the ball may never go into right field. That was Timmy. I played second base. Now I know that's where the second-worst player goes. If he manages to stop a grounder, he doesn't have far to throw to first base. That's where I played and I couldn't always make an accurate throw to first. I guess my self-esteem is lucky that I never realized how bad I was until a few years ago.
I clearly remember my first hit. It was a double. It was midway through my second year playing. I went the whole first year without a hit and halfway through the second! Apparently, I was really bad -- but no one told me, so I was oblivious to it. But I had my moments.
At first, batting was intimidating. I used one of the smaller wooden bats. My feet were unsteady. I always closed my eyes in fear. When I made contact with the ball, my wrists would hurt and the bones would vibrate in my arms up through my shoulders and around to my shoulder blades. Rarely did I make solid contact and often there was that nerve sensation like you hit your funny bone. But somehow, I got a little strength. I got a little confidence - enough to keep my eyes open. And I got a little speed.
For a few weeks when I was 11 or 12, I was in the zone. My first home run was a line shot up the gap. I saw the ball, I got the bat around quickly and it sailed deep into left-center. Our field was basically a field so there wasn't a warning track or a fence at all, so the ball kept rolling. Like I said, I had some speed and I was flying around the bases for all I was worth. I had never hit a home run before so I didn't know if they'd get to the ball in time to throw me out at home. So I watched the outfielders still chasing the ball as I headed for third, still picking up speed.
A few games later, I got a couple more. The ball began to look huge and slow. I could see the strings. I pushed the bat way back and low as I waited. My swing was all muscle. The end of the bat came around like a hammer. I could feel the bat flex as I swung, slightly behind my hands, catching up just as it reached the ball. And that moment of contact with the ball was frozen in time. I could feel the ball compress into the bat and stay in contact for a few moments as I powered through it. Instead of pain vibrating up my arm, the muscles and bones and bat were all one solid weapon. It felt good. It felt strong. All the way down to my feet. And the ball was gone. And I sprinted past first base, but eased up as I rounded second to watch the ball still bouncing away.
As quickly as it came, it faded away.
It came back again in college when I played intramural softball. I had spent the first part of the season trying to place the ball because I didn't have power and the ball was, well, soft. But again, as the season went on, I got stronger. I started using a heavier bat. The heaviest aluminum bat that we called "butch". And like before, instead of mis-hitting the ball and torquing my wrists, I could see it perfectly. Out of nowhere, I could pull the ball so far over the left fielder's head that he didn't even run.
And that went away, too. And returned a few times in city league ball after work. For a few weeks, a few times in my life, I was really a slugger.
I still remember the feeling, the awkward feeling and the awesome feeling.
I still have that little wooden bat, too.