COLUMN: I was a sacrifice-only, middle relief bullpen right fielder

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired in an episode of “Between You and Me” on 91.7 KAXE earlier this month.

I was a sacrifice-only, middle relief bullpen right fielder
By Aaron J. Brown

As the Major League Baseball season enters the final stretch I am reminded of my own baseball past playing for youth teams in Forbes and Clinton.

If there was such a thing as a bullpen for right fielders that is where I would have spent my three year career in youth baseball. When the starting right fielder was struggling or was simply too tired from scoring incessant runs on a crying six-year-old from some other town, a change would be made. The coach would make a “four eyes” signal to the right field bullpen, located in or around the water cooler on the end of the bench. He wanted the kid with saucer sized glasses, the one whose glove still smelled like Kmart even though it was a year old. That’s the kid we need, he’d say. And I’d be in the game.

Right field was an obvious place for the overweight kid who couldn’t run, catch or throw very well. It’s a bit of a cliché, but one for which I am profoundly grateful. As a kid I loved baseball and had a sense that if I loved it I should play the game. But I was afraid of the ball and practice only steeled my nerves against the inevitable injuries without preventing them. In youth baseball, right field is quiet because most right handers haven’t learned how to pull the ball yet and most left handers are still dealing with the existential hand-to-eye problems that stem from having different dexterity than most people.

I would have been a middle relief bullpen right fielder. You wouldn’t leave a guy like me in the game into the last inning any more than you’d put me in before the fifth. I was in there to make things interesting, something to keep the ADHD kids on their toes when the game had become lopsided.

I’d get a few at-bats, but my role at the plate was clear. A kid with my speed and presence on the basepaths was duty-bound to lay down a sacrifice, regardless of the number of outs or whether or not anyone was on base. A couple times I got walked. One of those times I was thrown out by the catcher as I absent mindedly led of first because, in the moment, I had literally forgotten that I was playing the game of baseball. This can’t be taught, folks. Not possible.

My career stats probably wouldn’t put me in the hall of fame, even if they had a category for middle relief, sacrifice-only bullpen right fielders. I fielded two pop ups in three years, one caught and one dropped. I converted the dropped one into an out when the guy advanced past first assuming I’d have curled into the fetal position by the time he got to second. Ha! I did that afterward, punk.

Like all athletes I reached a point where I knew I had reached the end of the road, a time when my body just wouldn’t respond to the demands of the game. For me that time came when the pitchers began exceeding 50 mph fastball speeds and the coach could no longer cede right field as some sort of unorganized territory. Hey, the game changed and guys like me got left behind.

Sometimes in my dreams, though, the coach still gazes down the bench at ol’ four-eyes, watching a beetle eat a sunflower seed next to an old piece of gum. I hear my name called and I know that it’s my time to show everyone what I’ve got, even if no one in particular wants to see it.

Aaron Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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