A dad’s triumphant return to baseball ignominy

PHOTO: Mayr, Flickr CC

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Something holy emanates from the crack of a baseball bat against a stitched leather ball. Doesn’t matter if the bat is aluminum or wood. That sound represents the unlikely collision of two round objects hurled toward each other by competing athletes. Ball and bat. Pitcher and hitter. Thunder and lightning. Two forces deeply connected, yet apart. Like Superman and his dead space dad.

I know the crack of the bat is a special sound because I produced it so rarely during my three years of youth baseball 30 years ago. And when I did I had to shake the pain from my knuckles.

It’s true. I’m one of several million failed American baseball players.

This fact came back to me this year as my son Douglas joins Little League baseball for the first time. It was a whim. He came home and said he wanted to try out for baseball. The last tryout was that night. We drove back into town, picking up a glove at the store, and before long he was placed on a team. The evenly cut grass and straight chalk lines help mark a full count of memories.

When I played, coaches deployed me as a late inning relief right fielder. A “closer,” if you will, for those situations when they needed to protect a nine-run lead.

I was a strikeout artist, an honored distinction usually reserved for pitchers. In three years of baseball I never reached base on anything but a walk. I was once picked off standing a foot from first base because I was looking at an airplane. Nevertheless, several promising foul balls gave me enough hope to persevere.

In the field I shone. Or at least I did the two times a fly ball headed my way. I caught one. I dropped the other, but threw out the runner using superhuman arm strength summoned from shame.

Of course, I held a deep, dark secret during my playing days. I was afraid of the ball.

Coach said not to be afraid of the ball. So did my dad and every old man sitting in the stands. But I was. Fear of the ball impacted my hitting, throwing and catching. This left only running unaffected. As a husky child, none of this boded well.

But flashing forward through the ages, something has changed. I’ve been playing catch with my son. As my cookie dough arm sprung back into use I realized something. I wasn’t afraid of the ball!

Chuck it at my head! I’ll catch it! And I did. Sometimes, anyway.

It occurred to me, watching the boys out on the field, that at long last I was actually *ready* to play Little League baseball. Put me in, coach! I can hit those whiffle balls. I can shag those flies. Heck, I might even be able to fire the ball all the way from third base to first.

I mean, look at that kid over there. I’m way better than that kid. Faster. Stronger. I bet I can pitch, too. Pitch!

The problem, of course, is that I’m 37, poured into a pair of Dockers, parked in the bleachers with a laptop. There are specific, very reasonable regulations preventing people like me from playing Little League.

People my own age are just starting to retire from Major League Baseball. They’ll buy used car dealerships and appear in local commercials for the next few decades. They’ll hunt elk, go trophy fishing and run for office on the platform that everyone should have the good sense to be a pro ballplayer.

Alas, I’m just getting warmed up. Too late, perhaps, but there’s no stopping me now.

In baseball, there is a small but ever-present possibility of getting hit in the head, mouth, gut, or crotch with a hard ball traveling at high speed. If you ever learn to lean toward that ball, to reach for it, baseball is actually a lot of fun.

Did I say baseball? I meant life.

Swing away, kid. Swing away.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, June 4, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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